Western Livestock Journal
March 6, 2017
It’s official: Montana Congressman and former Navy SEAL Ryan Zinke will serve a tour as U.S. Secretary of Interior. On March 1, the Senate confirmed him on a vote of 68-31. The yeas included 16 Democrats.
Zinke will oversee Bureau of Land Management (BLM); U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS); National Park Service; Bureau of Reclamation; Bureau of Indian Affairs; and others.
Livestock groups including Public Lands Council, National Cattlemen’s Beef Association and Montana Stockgrowers Association have expressed strong support for Zinke’s confirmation.
“Secretary Zinke is from the West and understands the unique challenges faced by communities with a large federal footprint,” said PLC President Dave Eliason. “We look forward to working with him and his staff at the Department of the Interior to restore the role of local input in planning and review processes, fix laws like the Endangered Species Act, and protect grazing rights that are so critical to western economies.”
On the issues
WLJ took a look at some of Zinke’s actions in Congress, as well as his confirmation testimony before the Senate in January. The following are his positions on some of the issues.
Multiple use: At his confirmation hearing, Zinke identified himself as an “unapologetic admirer of Teddy Roosevelt,” saying he supports multiple uses on the majority of public lands, except in special areas where wilderness protections are appropriate.
National monuments should have state and local support, he said. He voiced willingness to take a look at existing monuments and give the president recommendations as to their appropriateness.
He noted federal lands are important to national and local economies, places to “harvest timber, mine, and provide our nation with critical energy.” As an avid hunter, he also said he is “particularly concerned with public access.”
In 2015, he took part in the drafting of the Housepassed Resilient Federal Forests Act of 2015 (HR 2647), which, if enacted, would have encouraged local collaboration on timber projects and curbed environmental lawsuits by requiring litigious groups to post bond.
Energy independence is paramount, he stated in his testimony, especially given that other countries may not use the same environmental standards we do in harnessing energy sources. He said he’s a firm believer in the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).
Transfer of federal lands:
In his testimony, Zinke stated, “I am absolutely against transfer or sale of public land.” He also said he supports full and permanent funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund, a fund that can be used by the federal government to purchase land.
Climate change: “The climate is changing,” Zinke testified. “That’s undisputable.” He also said “man has had an influence.” However, he said, there is debate as to “what that influence is, and what can we do about it…” He said we should be “prudent” about how we move forward to address climate change.
Endangered Species: Although WLJ was not able to find direct statements from Zinke about the Endangered Species Act, he has been criticized by environmental groups for casting “at least 21 votes against endangered species protection…” According to a letter signed by 170 groups in February, Zinke has voted “to remove endangered species protections for the gray wolf and to prevent protection for greater sage-grouse, lesser prairie chicken and northern long-eared bats.”
Sage grouse: Zinke was a vocal opponent of the BLM’s plans to federally manage sage-grouse populations in western states. In May of 2015, he released a statement:
“Once again the Obama administration is undermining the authority of sovereign states to manage our own land, resources, and wildlife with one of their signature ‘Washington knows best’ plans,” he said. “… I support a state-based plan that gives local stakeholders a seat at the table.”
Montana Stockgrowers has called him a “great advocate for Montana” regarding issues such as bison, sage-grouse, and federal grazing permits.
WLJ will keep readers apprized as Secretary Zinke goes about hiring directors for BLM, USFWS and other relevant agencies under his purview. — Theodora Johnson, WLJ Correspondent
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