From The High Country News (Ben Long):
Ryan Zinke, who has served fewer than two terms in Congress, remains a relatively unknown figure in the world of natural resource politics. Whenever he has entered a national debate on cable news, it has been to make hawkish remarks on national security issues, touting his credentials as a former Navy SEAL.
But the Department of Interior‘s responsibilities lie within America’s boundaries, and especially in the West. Of the 640 million acres of federal public land in the United States, 500 million acres are under the purview of Interior. It’s a heady portfolio that includes national parks, national wildlife refuges, Bureau of Land Management lands and some national monuments. Interior also includes the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Bureau of Reclamation.
Zinke’s record on natural resources issues appears to be somewhat contradictory. When he issued a news release accepting the nomination to lead the Department of the Interior, he vowed to follow in the footsteps of Theodore Roosevelt. Indeed, since his first run at the state Legislature in Montana, he has often invoked the memory of that conservation icon.
Yet many environmental groups greeted his nomination for Interior boss with dismay, citing his congressional approval rating of only 3 percent from the national League of Conservation Voters. There’s also his tight connection to the coal and fossil fuel industries.
Sportsmen’s groups were warmer, noting that Zinke hunts and fishes and has at times stood up against some Republican leaders. He is against the sale of public lands and supports the Land and Water Conservation Fund.
Understanding a few key facts about Zinke may provide context as to how he will run the Interior Department:
Zinke is a coal-promoting politician from a coal-producing state.
He waxes nostalgic about the good old days of the Western timber industry and pushes for more logging on national forests.
At the same time, Zinke appears to understand how protected wild lands such as Glacier National Park and the Bob Marshall Wilderness contribute both to the economic vitality and the quality of life in small communities.
You can count on Zinke to push for the delisting of species under the Endangered Species Act, particularly the grizzly bear. In Whitefish, grizzlies act like super-size raccoons and routinely raid garbage cans.
But here’s the dilemma: Trump, and now by extension, Zinke, made a lot of promises to rural voters. They expect to see jobs coming back to loggers, sawmills and coal fields in rural America. Once regulations get purged, they were assured, America will be great again — at least according to their idea of greatness.
Trouble is, those jobs are gone for reasons that are a lot more complicated than overbearing regulations. It’s magical thinking to imagine that Trump or his Interior secretary can or will bring them back. You don’t get very far driving into the future when you’re looking in the rear-view mirror.
Zinke is setting a high standard for himself. Theodore Roosevelt loved science and constantly embraced new ideas. He spoke out vigorously against industries that, in his words, were out to “skin” the American landscape.
Yes, he loved the vigorous outdoor life and he delighted in his battleships, but he was also a scholar with a vision for America. TR paid a devastating political price for his principles in his lifetime. He was abandoned by the Republican Party, though his face later was carved on a mountain, a few decades after his death.
Here’s a statement from The Wilderness Society:
Statement from Jamie Williams, March 1, 2017 on Ryan Zinke confirmation as Secretary of the Interior.
“We expect Secretary Zinke to protect America’s natural heritage with the same sense of dedication and duty that he brought to his service to the nation as a Navy Seal,” said Wilderness Society President Jamie Williams.
“We will seek every opportunity to work with Secretary Zinke on issues that affect the public lands and waters that are owned by all Americans. But we will work just as hard to hold the Secretary accountable to his own promise to uphold the conservation ethic of Theodore Roosevelt and fight tirelessly for careful conservation and stewardship of those lands. The Secretary of the Interior must be a strong defender of our national wilderness areas, parks and wildlife refuges while also protecting sacred sites and places of cultural importance.”