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Pine Creek Lake. Photo by Walker Stole
Dec 13 2016

Rep. Zinke Tapped for Interior Secretary

Trump cabinet pick causes concern over what it means for Montana’s public lands and wild places

Featured, In the Media

President-elect Trump has tapped Montana’s freshman Congressman Ryan Zinke as his secretary of Interior. We're pleased that a Montanan has been nominated to oversee management of millions of acres of public lands, but we hold serious reservations about what this Trump cabinet pick means for public lands and wild places in our state and others.

While Rep. Zinke has on occasion bucked his party to vote in support of our way of life, his record is checkered when it comes to standing up for many of Montana’s outdoor values. He has voted to develop wilderness areas and to transfer management of national forest lands to the state. More recently, he held listening sessions for a bill that would gut the Antiquities Act, a century old conservation tool that has been used to protect natural and historic treasures in Montana, such as the Missouri River Breaks and the Little Bighorn Battlefield.

For those wondering what to expect from Secretary Zinke, here’s a look back at some of the congressman’s positions on critical conservation issues.

Wilderness Conservation

This year, a University of Montana poll reported that 74% of Montanans (and 75% of Montana Republicans) support the Blackfoot Clearwater Stewardship Project, which would add 80,000 acres of national forest land to the Bob Marshall, Scapegoat, and Mission Mountains Wilderness Areas. This collaborative legislative proposal would protect Montana’s iconic Blackfoot River watershed, made famous in Norman Maclean’s novel “A River Runs Through It.” Despite strong support for the project from mill owners, outfitters, snowmobilers, and cyclists, Rep. Zinke has refused to take a position on the proposal. He has also refused to meet in Montana with project partners during his first term in Congress.

Instead, Rep. Zinke has taken a very different position on wilderness management, despite the fact that 78% of Montanans believe wilderness is a good thing for our state. In March, he voted for the Sportsmen’s Heritage and Recreation Enhancement Act (H.R. 2406). This misleadingly named bill contained provisions that would allow public agencies to build temporary roads, construct dams, and advance commercial logging in designated wilderness areas under the pretense of improving “access” for sportsmen and women.

Public Lands Transfer

During his re-election campaign for U.S. House, Zinke positioned himself as a strong opponent of proposals to transfer American public lands to individual states. Unfortunately, Zinke’s record on public lands transfer failed to match his rhetoric. In 2012, while running an unsuccessful race for Lt. Governor, he signed a pledge to transfer national forest lands to individual states – a position that matches both state and national Republican Party platforms. Since then, he has flip-flopped on the issue.

During his first term in the House, he voted against a budget measure that would have allowed transfer of two million acres of national forest lands. That vote, in April of 2015, drew praise from MWA. But six weeks later, he voted for the Self-Sufficient Community Lands Act (H.R. 2316), which would allow the management of four million acres of National Forest lands to be transferred to individual states, where gubernatorial appointees would have exclusive control of pubic lands.

Forest Management 

In 2015, Rep. Zinke joined Freshman Congressman Bruce Westerman from Arkansas as a co-sponsor of the Resilient Federal Forest Act (H.R. 2647), a top-down forest reform bill that did not incorporate collaborative input from Montana, redirected funds away from restoration projects, and failed to solve a critical Forest Service budget crisis. 

Not only did H.R. 2647 prioritize timber harvest by doing an end run around bedrock environmental laws, it also limited the public’s ability to have a say in the future of their forests. And instead of focusing his energy on the bi-partisan Wildfire Disaster Funding Act, a bill that would keep the Forest Service from robbing other programs to pay for fire fighting costs, Congressman Zinke chose to burn precious time on a budget fix that was a half-measure at best.  Among other things, this bill also allowed an unlimited amount of temporary road building while adding procedural barriers to road decommissioning.

Undermining Roosevelt's Legacy

Rep. Zinke has called himself a Theodore Roosevelt conservationist but has recently attacked the central pillar of Roosevelt's conservation legacy, the Antiquities Act. In September, he began holding listening sessions for a House discussion draft of a bill that would alter the Antiquities Act so drastically that it would cease to function as the conservation tool that Roosevelt created.

Called the Protecting Agriculture, Conservation, and Recreation, and Empowering States (ACRES) Act, the bill would strip monument designation authority away from the president and require approval from state governors, adjacent counties, and adjacent property owners.

Roosevelt was known as a straight shooter on public lands policy. But Congressman Zinke’s votes to develop our treasured wilderness areas, undermine management of our national forests, and transfer public lands prove that his aim is way off-target.

We fully expect Rep. Zinke to continue branding himself as a Roosevelt conservationist at the Department of Interior. We will continue to work with the Congressman whether or not we see eye-to-eye, but we encourage everyone with a stake in the future of our public lands to hold him accountable to everything Roosevelt's legacy entails.

- John Todd, MWA conservation director