Tuesday, February 7th, 2023
Tuesday, February 7th, 2023

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December surprise: Trump selects Montana Rep. Ryan Zinke as Secretary of the Interior

U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke.

President-elect Donald Trump’s choice for Secretary of the Interior raised eyebrows late Tuesday for a couple reasons. First, most folks thought he’d already selected an Interior Secretary. Second, after some troubling selections in other environmental realms, his new Interior choice looks like a solid pick.

A hunter and angler, Rep. Ryan Zinke, R-Mont., has a good reputation among my Western outdoor writing colleagues, and compared to the first name we were heard for Interior, Cathy McMorris Rodgers, he’s a much better choice on our issues.

(By the way, Trump’s Interior announcement arrived after our press time on Tuesday, so this week’s Commentary contains multiple reactions from conservation groups to aforementioned McMorris Rodgers selection. Watch for updated reaction next week.)

A one-term congressman from Montana’s at-large seat, Zinke, 55, served as a Navy SEAL for nearly two decades and sat on the House Natural Resources Committee. He’s broken ranks with fellow GOP congressmen on public lands issues and been a staunch supporter of the Land and Water Conservation Fund.

Zinke even quit his post as a member of the GOP platform-writing committee this summer at the RNC Convention after the group included language that would have transferred federal land ownership to the states.

Per a quote on that matter from the Washington Post this morning: “What I saw was a platform that was more divisive than uniting,” Zinke said at the time. “At this point, I think it’s better to show leadership.”

Trump deserves credit for the Zinke selection, though maybe not too much, because he’s ultimately fulfilling a campaign promise.

In an interview with Outdoor News earlier this year, Donald Trump Jr. told us that public lands would be a priority for this administration. His father said the same thing in interviews with other hunting publications, so this scribe was flat-out dismayed with his initial pick (Rodgers), a politician who authored legislation to liquidate 3 million acres of public lands.

I’ll remind everyone that federal divestiture of public lands is part of the official Republican Party platform that the GOP passed during its convention last summer. I’m pleased that we have a president-elect and now a potential Interior Secretary who break rank on that policy stance.

On environmental issues, several of Trump’s cabinet choices, especially Scott Pruitt for the Environmental Protection Agency, have been disconcerting. But it looks like Trump has a solid triple – hell, maybe even an inside-the-park home run — with Rep. Zinke.

Response from outdoor groups on the surprise Zinke announcement on Tuesday and Wednesday was quite positive. Backcountry Hunters & Anglers President and CEO Land Tawney issued the following statement:

“Congressman Zinke understands the importance of public lands and balancing management of these important resources with energy development and other uses. As Montana’s lone representative in the House of Representatives, Mr. Zinke has showed himself to be receptive to the interests of a wide range of constituents and a potential ally of sportsmen and other outdoor recreationists.

“Charged with administering significant federal lands and natural resources, the Interior secretary is possibly the most powerful individual in the country when it comes to the future of our cherished public lands and waters, fish and wildlife and outdoor traditions.

“We’re gratified that the Trump administration is listening to our concerns and showing a willingness to act in the best interests of the American people and our irreplaceable public lands legacy.”

Collin O’Mara, president and CEO of the National Wildlife Federation, said yesterday:

“Throughout the campaign, president-elect Trump campaigned vigorously for the vote of America’s hunters and anglers, pledging to honor the legacy of President Theodore Roosevelt and to keep America’s public lands in public hands. In states like Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania, the votes from hundreds of thousands sportsmen and women helped the president-elect win these crucial states.

“By offering Rep. Ryan Zinke — a sportsman and proponent of keeping public lands public and investing in conservation — the position of Secretary of the Interior, president-elect Trump is signaling that he intends to keep his promises to America’s hunters, anglers, and outdoor enthusiasts. Rep. Zinke has opposed efforts to sell off America’s public lands and has supported investing in wildlife conservation and reauthorizing the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund.”

The Outdoor Industry Association noted that it endorsed Rep. Zinke in the 2016 election citing his understanding of the outdoor recreation economy and his support for investment in and the protection of America’s public lands and waters.

“Specifically, Zinke was a co-sponsor of the Outdoor REC Act in the House of Representatives, supports reauthorization and full funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund, and co-sponsored the Wildfire Disaster Funding Act, a fix for the fire suppression budgeting issues that dry up federal agencies in years of devastating forest fires. Zinke also voted for the National Forest System Trails Stewardship Act and has taken a vote against the state takeover of public lands.”

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