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Montana Politics Ryan Zinke

Why is Ryan Zinke Playing Political Games with Our National Monuments? What Happened to Him?

Photo from Secretary of Interior's Facebook page. The hat was not digitally altered. He wears it like that.

Ryan Zinke has always struggled to define his position on our public lands. The Secretary of the Interior has always painted himself as a Teddy Roosevelt Republican, committed to the protection of public spaces and preservation of the special, untouched places that make the West what it is, but his policy record shows a person far too often more interested in protecting the interests of multinational corporations and private landowners than the public interest. As Secretary of the Interior, that tension between the persona Zinke has created and the politician he has become even more apparent.

  • He announced he would fight for an expansion in the Interior budget to protect public lands and restore our national parks to their former glory, but then meekly defended President Trump’s budget that slashed those programs.
  • He’s said that he would ensure that taxpayers would get their fair share of revenue from resource extraction, but written directives that will gift $75 million of taxpayer money to coal companies every year.
  • He’s claimed that he would listen to all stakeholders, but filled his schedule with executives from resource extraction companies and even yelled at local community members who just wanted answers from him.
  • He’s called for partial privatization of national parks and forest areas.

Perhaps worst of all, he’s decided to threaten not only existing national monuments across the country but their future.  While sixteen presidents have used Roosevelt’s landmark Antiquities Act to protect national treasures 151 times, no president has ever reversed the designation for any of this special places and many have eventually become national parks.

Monument designation has been vital for our heritage, economy, and recreation, and all are at risk because of Zinke’s review.

Zinke’s review of national monuments has drawn criticism from all over the country and last week, Montana’s Backcountry Hunters & Anglers dropped what is almost certainly the largest ad buy targeting a Cabinet member in Montana, spending $1.4 million to ask “What Happened to Ryan Zinke?”

It’s an eminently fair question, especially as Zinke has used his position to call attention to himself and almost without rhyme or reason, run around the country to tell some people, Oprah-style, “You get a monument” and others that theirs will be reduced in size. That’s he made these announcements before official reviews have been completed, signaled his decision before some even began, and offered no real criteria for choosing which monuments to preserve matters far less than the opportunity to draw attention to Mr. Zinke himself.

In pursuit of the attention he so desperately craves, Zinke has threatened the legitimacy of national monument status, undermined faith that the government can be trusted to protect those lands, and attempted to establish a precedent that any future administration can gut any national monument, fundamentally betraying the legacy of Roosevelt and the communities in the West that know just how valuable, economically and spiritually, these areas are.

It’s the worst reality show imaginable, but one that boosts Zinke’s profile, a lesson he no doubt learned from President Trump, who Zinke has called “the best boss he’s ever had.”

Zinke plans to forward the results of this haphazard review to the President on August 24th, and many believe that it will recommend reducing or even rescinding multiple monuments.

Zinke’s game plan seems entirely transparent. He’s never made secret his plan to become the governor of Montana, a step I’m almost certain he believes will launch a bid for the White House. Swaggering across the West telling one set of audiences that he’s a champion of public lands while telling the moneyed interests who want restrict the people from those public lands that he’ll reduce federal control and allow more resource extraction has always been his game plan.

And that’s why the Backcountry Hunters & Anglers effort and the efforts of young people across the state to resist Zinke’s agenda is so important. As the President of the BHA, Land Tawney, noted in Men’s Journal, politicians respond to the stick:

One of his more charming habits is a tendency to compare politicians to dogs. “The dog understands the stick,” Tawney says, “and so do politicians.” Recently he has been using the stick to great effect. This spring, Tawney took on former Utah Congressman Jason Chaffetz — who resigned in the summer to take a job as a political pundit at Fox News — after the representative introduced a bill to “dispose” of 3 million acres of federally managed public land. Tawney countered by mounting a fierce grassroots response.

There’s nothing Ryan Zinke cares more about than his ambition. Let’s all take the opportunity to use that stick to remind Zinke that Montanans will remember it if he undermines the public lands we care so much about and hold him accountable for his failure to do so.

Our public lands and national monuments are much more important than any politician’s vanity or ambition, and it’s time Ryan Zinke heard that message.

If you appreciate an independent voice holding Montana politicians accountable and informing voters, and you can throw a few dollars a month our way, we would certainly appreciate it.

About the author

Don Pogreba

Don Pogreba has been writing about Montana politics since 2005 and teaching high school English since 2000. He's a former debate coach, and loyal, if often sad, fan of the San Diego Padres and Portland Timbers. He spends far too many hours of his life working at school and on his small business, Big Sky Debate.
His work has appeared in Politico and Rewire.
In the past few years, travel has become a priority, whether it's a road trip to some little town in Montana or a museum of culture in Ísafjörður, Iceland.


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  • On 9 November 2019, the 285,538 Montanans who voted for Zinke comprised his political base. Once sworn in as Secretary of the Interior, his political base numbered two: President Trump, and Donald Trump, Jr., the prairie dog assassin. That’s what happened to him. He serves at the pleasure of a temperamental patriarch of a family business, and the patriarch’s gunpowder crazed son. When he served in Congress, he was his own man. Now that he serves the Trumps, he’s their man. If he doesn’t do the crazy things they want him to do, he’ll become private citizen Zinke, an unemployed man, right quick. He may not have given that possibility adequate consideration when he decided to leave Congress for Trump’s cabinet.

  • Does anyone find it somewhat interesting, and sort of fishy, that Backcountry Hunters and Anglers has dropped $1.4 million on a Montana-only Ad buy targeting Secretary Ryan ZInke?

    According to this piece from Mike Dennison (

    “A public lands group has launched a $1.4 million ad campaign in Montana, targeting U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, urging him to recommend no changes in two dozen national monuments.

    The sizable TV, radio and online ad campaign from Missoula-based Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, launched last week, is solely in Montana – home to the Interior secretary and former Montana congressman….

    Backcountry Hungers and Anglers, headquartered in Missoula, is a nonprofit group that says it has 13,000 members nationwide.

    Its annual report lists nearly $2 million in revenue last year, funded by individual donors, membership dues and foundations. Foundations that support the group include the Pew Charitable Trusts, Conservation Alliance and Cinnabar Foundation.”

    There has to be more to this story, right? I mean, a group with $2 million in revenue just spent $1.4 million on an Ad buy for Montana only?

    Also, for whatever it’s worth, Land Tawney and Backcountry Hunters and Anglers (who count Donald Trump Jr as a lifetime member) did as much heavy lifting in supporting Trump’s nomination of Zinke – and making Zinke out to be a supposed Teddy Roosevelt Republican – as anyone in the country.

    Here’s what Tawney said in mid-December 2016 (, compared with what I had to say about Zinke and Trump at the same time.

    “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 … Charged with administering significant federal lands and natural resources, the Interior secretary is possibly the most powerful individual in the country when it comes to the future of our cherished public lands and waters, fish and wildlife and outdoor traditions … We’re gratified that the Trump administration is listening to our concerns and showing a willingness to act in the best interests of the American people and our irreplaceable public lands legacy.” – Land Tawney, Backcountry Hunters and Anglers President and CEO

    “Rep Ryan Zinke has an established track record of being pro-coal, pro-fracking, pro-logging, anti-science and anti-endangered species act when it comes to managing America’s public lands and wildlife. This has earned Zinke an environmental voting record of 3% from the League of Conservation Voters and a National Parks voting record of just 9% from the National Parks Conservation Association. Let’s also not forget that Rep Zinke was just hand picked by President-elect Donald Trump, someone who is clearly assembling the most anti-environmental, anti-public lands, pro-oil and gas and pro-wall street cabinet and administration in U.S. History. To think that Congressman Ryan Zinke is going to be a strong advocate for America’s public lands, our national parks and fish and wildlife species—and not just do the bidding of his boss, Donald Trump and campaign contributors in the resource extraction industry—is simply delusional, and not being honest with the American public. Simply because someone has stated that they would not sell-off, or give away, America’s public lands, does not in any way make that person a huge public lands champion, or a ‘Teddy Roosevelt Republican’ especially when the voting record clearly exposes the truth.” – Matthew Koehler, WildWest Institute:

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