EDITORIAL: Interior split may benefit Montana

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Seems like since Ryan Zinke has been the head of the U.S. Interior Department, there has been no shortage of news.

Unlike some of the headlines coming out of the department, we hope the one announcing a proposed reorganization of how public lands are administered does not prove controversial.

Currently, the Cabinet department, which includes the National Park Service, Bureau of Land Management, Bureau of Indian Affairs, and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, is divided into eight regions whose boundaries correspond to state lines. Montana falls into the Denver region.

Zinke has proposed looking at “reshaping our current bureau-based system of management, and moving to a system based on ecosystems, watersheds and science, rather than the current state or regional boundaries.”

Of course, as anyone who knows our state could tell you, that would result in a logical division that would mostly parallel the Continental Divide.

Glacier National Park, the Blackfeet reservation, and the Confederated Salish and Kootenai reservation would fall within Region Eight, which encompasses most of Idaho and parts of Eastern Oregon and Washington.

Montana east of the divide would fall into Region Five, a vast territory covering most of the Great Plains and corresponding to the Missouri River Basin. A great deal of the federal land in that region falls under the aegis of the Bureau of Land Management.

Interior press secretary Heather Swift told the Inter Lake that “there is no final plan for reorganization,” and that a meeting about the topic “was an internal brainstorming session with career officials to talk about options and ideas.”

Well, that’s understandable. This is the federal government, after all, and no one expects change to happen at faster than glacial speed. But we do think this proposal has the potential to actually improve services and accountability, so it’s one to keep an eye on.

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