WASHINGTON — Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke signed an order on Friday to expand hunting and fishing on federal land, saying it would improve wildlife management and conservation.
Environmentalists dismissed it as "a do-nothing order."
The order directs the Fish and Wildlife Service and other agencies to produce a plan to expand access. It also calls for changes to management plans for national monuments to ensure the public's right to hunt, fish and target shoot.
Zinke called hunting and fishing "a cornerstone of the American tradition."
But the public already has the right to hunt and fish on federal lands, and states have primary authority to regulate hunting and fishing in those areas, said Matt Lee-Ashley, a former Interior official who is now a senior fellow at the left-leaning Center for American Progress.
"Secretary Zinke is trying desperately to create a distraction from his proposal to dramatically reduce the size of America's national monuments, which would be the largest elimination of protections for wildlife habitat in U.S. history," Lee-Ashley said.
Zinke submitted a report to President Donald Trump last month recommending changes in nearly two-dozen national monuments created by previous presidents. Zinke told the AP that none of the monuments would be rescinded — as Trump had once threatened — but said he would push for boundary changes on a handful and left open the possibility of allowing drilling, mining or other industries on the sites.
The recommendations have not been made public, although Zinke said in a trickle of announcements this summer that no changes would be made at six of 27 monuments under review — in Montana, Colorado, Idaho, California, Arizona and Washington state. He also said that Utah's Bears Ears National Monument will be downsized.
Land Tawney, CEO of Backcountry Hunters & Anglers, hailed Zinke's order, saying lack of access to hunting and fishing sites was the No. 1 reason cited by sportsmen for giving up time spent on those activities.
"The importance of Secretary Zinke's commitment to sustaining and expanding public access opportunities to the outdoors cannot be overstated," Tawney said.
Dale Hall, a former Fish and Wildlife Service director who now is CEO of the hunting and conservation group Ducks Unlimited, said conserving wetlands and other wildlife habitats is vital to preserving the nation's hunting and angling heritage.
"At the end of the day it's all about ensuring that all Americans, and those generations to come, have access to the wildlife and wild places that we enjoy today," Hall said in a statement thanking Zinke.
"Don't be fooled by Zinke's secretarial order and his Teddy Roosevelt references," countered Randi Spivak, public lands program director with the environmental group Center for Biological Diversity.
"What's best for those who hunt and fish on America's public lands is protecting and restoring wildlife habitat," Spivak said, calling Zinke's order "a PR stunt."