Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke on Friday announced an executive order that would increase hunting of big-game herds in western states, which he said will help preserve the population for animals such as mule, deer, elk, and antelope.
The order aims to improve the habitat of the animals, which Zinke says have been harmed by residential development.
"We all know that animals go where animals want to go, and more often than not, that's dependent upon natural features like watersheds, rather than whether land is owned by the BLM, state, or private landowners,” Zinke said in a statement. “We need to manage appropriately. My goal is healthy herds for American hunters and wildlife watchers, and this order will help establish better migration corridors for some of North America's most iconic big game species like elk, mule deer and antelope.”
Easing the way for migration corridors will allow the animals to more easily travel from feeding grounds where they breed to hunting grounds.
His order would have the Interior Department work with state and private landowners, through voluntary agreements, to study the migration habits of wildlife across the federal lands of several western states, to find ways to improve their habitats.
As an example, Zinke said the federal government could work with ranchers to modify their fences and collaborate with states on on sagebrush restoration.
The states partnering on the study are New Mexico, Utah, Wyoming, Idaho, Arizona, Nevada, California and Colorado.
“These states generally have expansive public lands with established sagebrush landscapes along with robust big-game herds that are highly valued by hunters and tourists throughout the nation,” the text of the executive order says.
Zinke, who is an avid hunter, traveled to Salt Lake City to announce the executive order during an appearance at the Western Hunting & Conservation Expo.
“Utah is ground zero for this kind of initiative on the state level, and we are looking forward to partnering with them and other states in the future,” Zinke said. “Working together, we will strengthen herds and ensure big game hunting is passed down from generation to generation."
Zinke’s views on hunting have clashed with President Trump, who in November stopped the Interior Department from overturning an Obama-era ban on elephant trophy imports from Zimbabwe.
After a public outcry, Trump said he put the policy on hold pending further study.
Trump said he doubted the revenue raised from hunting actually went toward conserving the population of the vulnerable elephants.
Advocacy groups who have opposed Zinke's public lands agenda said they would take a wait and see approach to his latest action.
“We would like to see protection of wildlife migration corridors, winter range and habitat writ large, so this order could be a good way to accomplish those goals,” said Nada Culver, the senior counsel and director of the BLM Action Center at the Wilderness Society. “However, success will require management to protect these lands from harm, such as from oil and gas drilling, and funding. The budget this administration is issuing Monday will be a chance to see if there is a real commitment here or we should look to their recent actions to put more habitat at risk.”