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.