The Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) which has successfully funded over 41,000 conservation and lands projects at the federal, state and regional levels over the past five decades, failed to receive reauthorization by the September 30th deadline. While Congress is still trying to hash out a deal to reauthorize its funding, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, a self-described “conservationist” and former ardent LWCF supporter, has been missing in action in his efforts to generate support for reauthorization before the deadline.
“If Secretary Zinke is half the conservationist that he claims to be, then he needs to ensure that LWCF is funded for the long term. Any true conservationist would jump at the chance to use his position as Interior Secretary to generate support for this critical program,” said Chris Saeger, Executive Director of Western Values Project. “Three years ago, then-Congressman Zinke voted to permanently reauthorize the LWCF. Where is that Ryan Zinke now that the most critical public lands, public access, and parks program really needs him?”
Earlier this year, Secretary Zinke defended a budget that nearly zeroed out the program’s funding, reducing it from its 2018 allocation of $425 million down to a mere $8.1 million, and failed to secure its reauthorization. The program is funded through offshore oil and gas royalties, costing taxpayers nothing.
In 2015, when he was Montana’s Congressman, Ryan Zinke was a vocal supporter of the LWCF and voted to permanently reauthorize the program. He even wrote an op-ed saying he would try to win over his Republican colleagues to support the LWCF, writing “ I know what is at stake if we lose this critical resource.” The Land and Water Conservation Fund is especially important to Zinke’s home state of Montana: the program has invested more than $579 million to protect Montana’s open spaces, historic sites, and increase recreation access.
But as Interior Secretary, Zinke has failed to generate enough support for the LWCF program. Instead, this summer, he toured Western states and blamed wildfire damage on “environmental terrorist groups,” and then went on a mysterious two-week Turkish vacation, which the Interior Department has refused to comment on. Most recently he was weighing in on a potential Russian blockade. He is also being investigated by Interior’s Inspector General for his possible role in a real estate deal that his family’s foundation is working on with the Chairman of Halliburton.
Also published on Medium.