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New Interior secretary is a disaster

What was U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich thinking when he supported David Bernhardt’s confirmation as Interior secretary?

I’ve been trying to figure out how a fellow hunter and conservationist could sell out America’s wildlife and public lands so completely, knowing what he knows about Bernhardt.

How could Heinrich overlook Bernhardt’s systematic plundering of America’s shared inheritance by the oil and gas industry? Or his efforts to block release of a scientific report that showed two deadly pesticides threaten the existence of nearly 1,400 protected species, as well as the public’s health?

Was Heinrich thinking about his children’s future when he cast his vote in the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee to advance Bernhardt’s nomination? Did anyone’s kids cross his mind when he voted for Bernhardt’s confirmation days later on the Senate floor?

Surely it must have occurred to him that under Bernhardt’s direction the Trump administration has leased more than 3.4 million acres in the lower 48 states for fracking and drilling, saddling future generations with nearly 600 million tons of additional greenhouse gas pollution.

Heinrich is a self-styled sportsman and conservationist who claims to care about public lands, watersheds and wildlife. Until he voted for Bernhardt, I believed him. In fact, I admired him and thought we had a lot in common.

But a true conservationist would have vehemently opposed Bernhardt’s nomination to oversee the Interior Department and its 500 million acres of canyons, rivers, high deserts and forests. A true conservationist would never allow oil and gas companies to destroy wildlife corridors, mule deer habitat and Native American sacred sites, as they’ve been allowed to do under Bernhardt.

Bernhardt long ago declared his allegiance to the oil, gas and mining industries. He’s demonstrated he can’t be trusted to protect public lands and wildlife. Surely Heinrich knows this.

Or has he forgotten that Bernhardt ignores an Interior Department directive to support key habitat for big-game species such as elk, mule deer and pronghorn, and instead allows oil and gas leasing in wildlife migration corridors?

Heinrich should know that one of the worst examples of this is in New Mexico, where 80 percent of leases for drilling and fracking are in areas considered priorities for big game.

Perhaps Heinrich thinks he can make a deal with Bernhardt to protect Chaco Canyon. After his committee vote, he touted the “commitment” Bernhardt made to visit the area and meet with tribal leaders.

While the Bureau of Land Management took parcels near Chaco Culture National Historic Park off the auction block earlier this year, that’s far from a guarantee that they’ll be protected from oil and gas development. Southwest tribes, including the Navajo Nation and Acoma Pueblos, are rightly concerned that Bernhardt’s BLM could recommend more drilling be allowed on public land near the park.

But even if new drilling and fracking is blocked in the Chaco region, Heinrich’s duty as a U.S. senator is to look out for all of our nation’s public lands, waters and wildlife. His vote to confirm Bernhardt will do irreversible harm, far beyond New Mexico.

I started hunting elk with my dad when I was 5 years old and harvested my first cow elk at 14.

Hunting pulled our family close and helped my parents make ends meet. It taught me to respect animals and their habitat, that all species are interconnected and that we need each other – along with large tracts of healthy wilderness – to survive.

Our spectacular public lands are held in trust for all Americans, and for the children and grandchildren my husband and I plan to have.

By voting to confirm Bernhardt, Heinrich has become complicit in further habitat destruction, climate chaos and driving more imperiled species to extinction. He can no longer call himself a conservationist.

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