Secretary of Interior used wildfire funds for helicopter tour of National Monuments

The tour was prior to deciding which monuments to shrink

Before Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke made his recommendation to the President about which National Monuments to shrink, he used wildfire preparedness funds appropriated to the National Interagency Fire Center office in Boise to pay for helicopter flights over sites in Nevada.

According to an article in Newsweek by Celeste Katz, the use of the helicopter on June 26, 2017, which cost taxpayers and the Bureau of Land Management $39,295, was unrelated to wildland fire. The account used for the flights is designated for fire personnel salaries and equipment.

Below is an excerpt from the article:

But after Newsweek questioned the line item, an Interior Department spokeswoman said this week that the chopper—listed in an accounting of Zinke’s travel as costing $39,295—“was charged to the account in error.” She added that the BLM would pay for the helicopter from “a more appropriate account.”

The official purpose of the round-trip helicopter trip was for an “aerial survey of objects and boundaries pertaining to the 704,000 acres in Basin and Range National Monument and the 300,000 acres in Gold Butte National Monument.”

From Newsweek:

Zinke ultimately recommended shrinking not only Gold Butte in Nevada but other Western national monuments, including Bears Ears in Utah and Cascade-Siskiyou in Oregon and California. His Gold Butte recommendation angered conservationists but was hailed by Nevada Senator Dean Heller and the head of a local water district.

The National Incident Management Situation Report published on June 27, 2017, the morning after the helicopter tour, showed two large wildfires burning in Nevada, the Cole Creek and Dolly Fires, but Secretary Zinke did not visit any fires on his trip. The report showed that in the Great Basin Geographic Area, which includes Nevada, 16 helicopters were working on 21 fires, with 54 helicopters in use nationally.

Secretary Zinke has been criticized for using military, chartered, and National Park Service fixed and rotor wing aircraft, at times for purposes that could be difficult to justify.

The Department of the Interior supplied a list of some of the Secretary’s use of non-commercial aircraft, but it does not include a trip with Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue to Boise on August 24 on an Air Force plane similar to a Boeing 737.

Ryan Zinke air force aircraft 737

Author: Bill Gabbert

After working full time in wildland fire for 33 years, he continues to learn, and strives to be a Student of Fire. Google+

17 thoughts on “Secretary of Interior used wildfire funds for helicopter tour of National Monuments”

  1. So what?, how many trips did the Salad Czar make on government aircraft? but no, that wasn’t a concern when Obama was in office was it? About time we had some common sense leadership in this Dept.

      1. Misuse of funds is illegal. He is also not choosing the most efficient method of travel, which is against regulation and the expectations for his employees. We are scrutinized if we pick a car rental for an extra $1 a day simply because the cheaper guy takes an extra 20 minutes to get your car from. Seems to have a sense of entitlement, but you’re right, so what!

  2. Probably much ado about nothing! .There are thousands of other ways ,that the Federal Government is wasting far more money than this .

  3. You know how it works. Look over the varied accounts, see which one has some money in it (or in this case, can be replenished quickly and without a fight) come up with a charge number, and git’er done. Somebody has to make the decisions. The only question I’d have would be whether the same purpose couldn’t have been met at a significantly reduced cost. My guess is that it could, and that, with very little effort.
    You know the Enviro’s are going to howl regardless of what is done so get used to that idea. It’s who they are; it’s what they do. They do it to stir up their donor pool. They get paid for stirring up fear and anger, and people respond according to the effectiveness of the rhetoric.

  4. 50 bucks says they had the helicopter on a DOI EU contract, and someone forgot to shift their daily availability off of the national code.

      1. Pretty par for the course for rotary wing operations. Even Type 3s are monumentally expensive for very limited flight. I don’t have the OAS source list in front of me, but 40k sounds pretty realistic for a days worth of flying.

    1. Flight time is roughly high 900s to 1400 an hour on an exclusive use depending on the contract plus daily availability of 2500. But daily availability comes out of the DC budget on EU. A CWN is usually double the EU flight time rate with no guaranteed flight time. So he probably flew around for 12-15 hours on $40,000. Now the scandalous thing was if he used an aircraft that was not on a national CWN contract available to all DOI employees looking to use aircraft, but used a much more expensive charter helicopter, like some luxury helicopter at a much higher flight hour rate.

    1. Because that is a bit extreme and based off of the information in this article, there is no evidence that Mr. Zinke was responsible or knew what happened. Did you have further insight into his actions? I think he should be held accountable, just seems like you made a leap…

    2. Why would he be arrested? He is not the person who directed which account the aircraft use was billed to. Having been directed by the president to do the aerial survey, he used the resources available to do it.

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