It hasn’t been more than nine months since then Congressman Ryan Zinke stood in front of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources and proclaimed that he was the reincarnation of Theodore Roosevelt himself, pledging to defend America’s public lands at all costs. The sad truth is this statement couldn’t have been further from the truth. Secretary Zinke is more in the mold of former Secretary of the Interior James Watt, whose department was plagued by scandals, and who opened vast swaths of protected and iconic public lands to legally questionable oil and gas leases and development. Some of those leases are still being fought over 30 years later.
Zinke, much like Watt who was named one of the top ten worst cabinet members by Time Magazine, is orchestrating an unabridged attack on our public lands. Secretary Zinke is recommending historic reductions in protected wildlife habitat, rolling back public land regulations, opening vast swaths for leasing and development, and underfunding the maintenance and management of those lands.
Zinke’s photo ops at national parks have been nothing more than a red herring to distract from his unabashed attack on public lands and his eroding support among sports groups. States and state wildlife agencies are charged with wildlife management in partnership with the federal government. Zinke’s federal decree to push hunting in all national monuments undercuts state authority to make on-the-ground wildlife decisions. His federal sage-grouse mandate is of a similar vein – pushing federal directives crafted by the oil and gas lobby on to states.
Make no mistake Zinke’s monuments recommendations is an unprecedented attack on our public lands and undermines one of President Roosevelt’s signature pieces of legislation, the Antiquities Act. The error-ridden leaked document suggests that the President eliminate the largest area of protected habitat in U.S. history. If implemented, this would have a devastating impact on public opportunities to hunt and fish. Even one of his home state papers wrote that he ‘has set a troubling pattern of opacity, poor communication and flimsy fact-checking.’
It’s become abundantly clear that Secretary Zinke only cares about extractive industries, like logging, mining, and energy development. He’s filled his department with former industry reps and lobbyists, and nearly every decision he’s made thus far has benefited these industries, from leasing next to national parks to royalty rate reductions for special interests.
Secretary Zinke’s legacy may be on pace to eclipse former Secretary Watt, and that’s not a good thing. He should remember that out West our outdoor heritage, including hunting and fishing, is more than a video game that can be started over with a few quarters, it’s our livelihood. The unchecked rollback of regulations and granting industry unbridled access to our public lands is risking that heritage now and for future generations. On National Public Lands Day, Secretary Zinke needs to remember that he works for all public land users.