As U.S. Rep. Ryan Zinke prepares to serve at the helm of the Department of Interior, he will be in a position to oversee more than 500 million acres of federal lands. During the Montana congressman’s confirmation hearing before the U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, he reiterated his desire to be a “Teddy Roosevelt conservationist.”
I listened carefully to his comments during that confirmation hearing and offer an initial review:
♦ Zinke expressed support for keeping public lands public after the troubling House vote earlier this month that would assign a zero-dollar value to federal public lands. Montanans will need to hold him to his word.
♦ Zinke expressed support for making permanent the Land and Water Conservation Fund, a crucial program that invests earnings from offshore oil and gas leasing to provide recreation opportunities and public lands access to all Americans. LWCF uses zero taxpayer dollars. This program provides Montanans with local parks, fishing access sites, and recreation trails. Fully funding LWCF is a long overdue. It is a bipartisan endeavor that supports a $640 billion-plus industry providing over 6 million jobs across America.
♦ Zinke said he would help address the National Park Service maintenance backlog that is crippling public access to our park system. We are encouraged by Zinke’s forward-leaning statements on addressing the $12 billion-plus maintenance backlog in our nation’s parks. Yellowstone National Park faces a $632 million backlog, leading the nation in the most deferred maintenance of any park in the country. Glacier National Park is facing close to $180 million in much needed improvements to roads and infrastructure. These parks are Montana’s crown jewels that deserve necessary maintenance.
♦ Zinke’s answers on national monuments and the Antiquities Act raise more questions than answers, especially for the many communities that are reaping the economic benefits of these monuments. His comments reflect a troubling openness to overturning many national monuments. Monuments important to American Indians—and all Americans—should not be overturned.
♦ His answers regarding deferring to the states when creating new monuments is equally troubling. There is a fine line between ensuring robust local participation and wrapping it in so much bureaucracy and government red-tape that every official in Montana would need to sign off on future monuments. That would forever cripple the Antiquities Act, a Teddy Roosevelt legacy important to Montana. We need Zinke make good on his vow to be a Teddy Roosevelt conservationist.
♦ Zinke repeatedly emphasized that logging, energy development and mining are key parts of the economy—on this we completely agree. What we didn’t hear was equal emphasis on the outdoor recreation economy, which is $646 billion strong and growing every day. Public lands management is a balancing act. Where appropriate, that may be oil and gas development, but equally important is consideration for keeping the land open for recreation and public access. Montanans will need to keep a careful eye on whether the new secretary of Interior is actually striking this balance.
There will be many reviews on the legacy our new Interior secretary will leave for all Americans. We offer a timeless reminder of this awesome responsibility from his role model, again, the 26th president of the United States, Theodore Roosevelt:
“Here is your country. Cherish these natural wonders, cherish the natural resources, cherish the history and romance as a sacred heritage for your children and your children’s children.”
I join many in encouraging Rep. Zinke to keep this message close to heart as he builds that legacy in the coming years and we wish him well along the way.
Lance Trebesch is CEO/co-owner of Ticket River and Ticketprinting.com—with facilities in Harlowton and Bozeman. He is a founding member of Business for Montana’s Outdoors and serves on the organization’s executive board.