On Tuesday, President-elect Donald Trump selected Montana congressman Ryan Zinke (R) to serve as secretary for the Department of the Interior, a position that manages natural and cultural resources. If Zinke accepts the job, he would oversee about 20 percent of the country’s public land, some 70,000 employees, and agencies like the Bureau of Land Management, the National Park Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife, the U.S. Geological Survey, and the Bureau of Indian Affairs.
In short, Zinke, 55, would become the most powerful arbiter of outdoor recreation and land-use policies in the country. Given Trump’s other cabinet picks, the second-term Montanan congressman is a better option than many expected. Crucially, he’s voiced support for federal management of public land and renewable energy. But he’s also called climate change an “unsettled science” and wants to open federal land to more energy extraction. So it could be worse, but he’s certainly not an environmentalist’s ally.
Here’s how the outdoor industry has responded to Zinke, through blog posts and press releases:
Outdoor Industry Association
“Outdoor Industry Association (OIA) and OIAPAC endorsed 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 (LWCF) and co-sponsored the Wildfire Disaster Funding Act (WDFA)... Zinke also voted for the National Forest System Trails Stewardship Act and has taken a vote against the state takeover of public lands… He shares the industry’s values specific to the importance of access to and funding for America’s public lands and waters and the important role they play as the foundation and infrastructure of the $646 billion outdoor recreation economy. We look forward to a collaborative relationship and constructive dialogue with him, but we will also be ready to defend the protection of our shared lands and waters—our American heritage—should they be threatened.”
“We have worked with Zinke on public lands and outdoor issues over the last several years. During his time in Congress, Zinke has become more outspoken about the importance of fighting the public land heist and working to keep public lands public. He has also been a vocal advocate for conservation programs like the Land and Water Conservation Fund. Zinke has at times been willing to take positions unpopular with his party to defend public lands...Although his overall voting record on this issue has been mixed, he also deserves credit for taking some tough committee votes in support of keeping public lands public. Earlier this summer, Zinke broke party lines to vote against one of two measures that pave the way for privatizing National Forests. Zinke has been a strong supporter of fossil fuel development on public lands, including coal mining. In addition, he has been inconsistent on the settled science of climate change...To his credit, Zinke has been responsive to the outcry of his constituents in Montana about the importance of public lands.”
The Wilderness Society
“We have serious concerns about the nomination of Congressman Zinke, whose repeated support for logging, drilling and mining on cherished public lands is out of step with most Americans. While he has steered clear of efforts to sell off public lands and supported the Land and Water Conservation Fund, far more often Zinke has advanced policies that favor special interests. His overall record and the backdrop of cabinet nominations with close ties to the fossil fuel industry cause us grave concern. Zinke has refused to acknowledge that climate change is caused by fossil fuel emissions, while vocally opposing the Obama administration’s efforts to reduce harmful methane emissions. In addition, he has fought efforts to reform coal and voted to scrap environmental safeguards related to logging efforts on national forests.”
“His overall record and the backdrop of cabinet nominations with close ties to the fossil fuel industry cause us grave concern.”
National Parks Conservation Association
“It is up to all of us to protect our national parks, including the President-elect and his new Interior Secretary. Mr. Zinke has expressed support for the Land and Water Conservation Fund, opposes the sale of public lands and has expressed concern over proposed mine development adjacent to Yellowstone. In contrast, Mr. Zinke has advocated for state control of energy development on federal lands, a move that threatens our national parks. Mr. Zinke has also repeatedly voted to block efforts to designate new national parks that would diversify the National Park System.”
Backcountry Hunters and Anglers
“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... We appreciate his efforts to keep public lands public and to strongly fund cornerstone natural resources programs like the Land and Water Conservation Fund; at the same time, we are committed to ensuring that fish and wildlife and their habitats are considered priorities with competing uses of our public lands. We look forward to continuing to work closely with Mr. Zinke as Interior secretary.”
Center for Biological Diversity
“Ryan Zinke has a dismal 3 percent lifetime environmental voting record. His brief political career has been substantially devoted to attacking endangered species and the Endangered Species Act. He led efforts to strip federal protections for endangered wolves, lynx, and sage grouse; voted to exempt massive agribusiness and water developers from Endangered Species Act limitations; and opposed efforts to crack down on the international black market ivory trade. Zinke consistently votes for the interests of oil and gas companies, which is not surprising since Oasis Petroleum is his largest campaign contributor and the oil and gas industry is his third-largest sector contributor. He has also voted against and attacked the establishment of protective national monuments on public lands. On the bright side, Zinke has spoken and voted against the outright transfer of federal public lands to states and corporations. This is in keeping with positions taken by Donald Trump and his son Donald, Jr. Unfortunately Zinke has championed the same result—greatly increased logging, mining and oil drilling, greatly reduced environmental protections, elimination of federal control, and weakening of environmental standards—by turning over public land management to industry-dominated panels appointed by state governors... During confirmation hearings, the Senate needs to grill Zinke on this contradiction and ensure he truly supports keeping public lands in public hands."
—Kierán Suckling, executive director of the CBD
“During his time in Congress, Zinke has become more outspoken about the importance of fighting the public land heist and working to keep public lands public.”
Trust for Public Lands
“President Theodore Roosevelt rightly recognized that saving our outdoor heritage for future generations was important, and if President-elect Trump intends to follow in Roosevelt’s footsteps, he will make sure these special places are protected forever, not sold to the highest bidder. As a member of Congress, Zinke was a strong supporter of the Land and Water Conservation Fund and worked with us to support community-based land conservation in Montana. We hope that as Secretary of the Interior, he will staunchly defend our public lands from harmful attacks, oppose the proposed sale and transfer of those lands and work to ensure permanent access to the outdoors for all Americans.”
Center for American Progress
“Congressman Zinke is a coal executive’s dream nominee. Congressman Zinke has been on a one-man crusade to preserve a massive loophole that allowed coal companies to dodge royalty payments to Montana communities and U.S. taxpayers...The coal and oil industry’s contributions to Congressman Zinke also seem to have transformed him into a denier of basic climate science. His flip-flop on the science of climate change will raise questions about which of his other positions—such as his promise not to sell off parks and public lands—can be sold to the highest bidder...In 2010, then-state senator Zinke signed a letter of 1,200 state legislators calling on President Obama and the Congress to pass legislation on clean energy and climate change. Running for Congress in 2014, Congressman Zinke flipped his position, challenging the scientific consensus behind climate change. Since 2014, Zinke has taken at least $345,000 in campaign contributions from the oil and gas industry.”
Current Secretary of the Interior Salley Jewell
Last month, Outside editor-in-chief Chris Keyes chatted with Jewell about her potential replacement. When asked about what she thought about a climate change denier filling the role, she said: “You cannot be the Secretary of the Interior and deal with the wildfires and the droughts and the invasive species and coastal erosion without recognizing that climate change is real….No matter what beliefs a person comes into this position with, the job has a way of showing you what’s really going on.”