Newly Confirmed Secretary of Interior Has a Mixed Record on Public Land Issues

On March 1st, Montana Representative Ryan Zinke was confirmed as the United States Secretary of the Interior. In this role, Zinke will lead the Department of Interior (DOI), which manages 500 million acres of public land in the United States and oversees the National Park Service, Bureau of Land Management, Fish and Wildlife, Bureau of Reclamation, and Bureau of Indian Affairs. About 30% of America’s climbing areas are located on DOI lands, including many of the iconic climbing areas like Yosemite, Joshua Tree, Red Rocks, and Indian Creek.

So what can we expect from Zinke on public lands and conservation?

During his Senate confirmation hearing, Zinke mentioned several times his admiration for President Theodore Roosevelt, a visionary conservationist and climber. Access Fund is encouraged by Rep. Zinke’s position on public lands transfer and his willingness to stray from the GOP platform’s misguided goal of conveying certain federally controlled public lands to states. He has clearly articulated an opposition to the transfer or sale of public land, both through recent public statements and his voting history as a Montana representative.

Zinke is also a strong supporter of outdoor recreation (especially hunting and fishing), and he has voiced his support for permanent reauthorization of the Land and Water Conservation Fund, an important conservation tool that has been used by the climbing community to protect threatened climbing areas.

Zinke also acknowledges that humans have a role in causing climate change and that DOI needs to address climate change issues. We would hope that any Secretary of the Interior would hold those positions, but this is noteworthy given how low the current administration has set the bar on conservation issues.

All of this is encouraging, but will he walk the talk?

Despite his apparent opposition to transferring public lands, Zinke did recently vote in favor of the House of Representatives rules package that makes public land transfers much easier.

He also believes that fossil fuel production is the cornerstone of America’s economy, and he voiced support for an effort to scrap a BLM rule that was put in place by the Obama administration to limit methane waste from oil and gas drilling.

Zinke has also stated that one of his top priorities as Secretary of Interior will be to visit Utah to meet with stakeholders and lawmakers to discuss the Bears Ears National Monument designation, which he calls a “problem.” The Utah legislature recently passed a resolution to rescind Bears Ears National Monument and ask the Trump administration to sign an executive order to nullify the monument designation. Access Fund supports Bears Ears National Monument, as well as our Native American partners who have been short-changed by Utah’s elected officials, so we will be weighing in on those discussions as they transpire.

Representative Zinke’s confirmation is a conundrum for the conservation and recreation communities, and we will need to wait and see. The stakes are extremely high. Department of Interior holds the keys to a lot of our public lands and the Secretary of Interior will make decisions that will affect our public lands forever.

Access Fund remains watchful, but is cautiously optimistic about Secretary of Interior Zinke. We will engage with the Secretary’s office on a variety of issues, starting with Bears Ears, and hope to develop a robust working relationship similar to the one we had with Secretary Jewell’s office.

Stay tuned to Access Fund e-news for updates.

Photo credit: U.S. House of Representatives

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