January 17, 2017

The Department of the Interior has, to put it simply, enormous responsibilities. Among them, according to its mission statement, is the protection and management of our nation’s lands, wildlife and natural resources. The Department of the Interior oversees the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the National Wildlife Refuge System and the National Park Service. And that’s why who gets to be Secretary of the Interior is so incredibly important.

While Interior agencies do the on-the-ground work managing public lands, making decisions on oil and gas leasing, protecting endangered species and a myriad of other responsibilities, the Secretary of the Interior has the final say on the stewardship of our natural heritage. Every new presidential administration means that a new Secretary of the Interior will be nominated, and that person’s record speaks volumes for how they will manage their role.

Nominee: Ryan Zinke (Representative, Montana)

Unfortunately, President-elect Trump’s nominee Rep. Ryan Zinke brings some serious concerns to the table. Zinke has served fewer than two terms as congressman from Montana, so his record is not as long as many of the other potentially disastrous nominees that were considered (like Sarah Palin or Cathy McMorris Rodgers), but in his short career he has consistently supported anti-conservation legislation at odds with the responsibilities of managing and protecting wildlife.

For example, while Rep. Zinke is on record opposing the outright sale of federal lands and supporting needed funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund, his legislative record shows that he has repeatedly promoted increased logging, drilling, grazing and mining on federal lands throughout the country. Public lands are already under increasing threat: just this week, House Republicans proposed a rule change to make it easier to hand them off to private industries and states. Disturbingly, Zinke voted with other House Republicans to overturn the rule, which requires Congress to account for the value of federal land before transferring it to states or other entities, removing a significant barrier to limit lawmakers from ceding federal control of public lands. This should be of grave concern to anyone who cares about conserving public lands for wildlife habitat and protecting our natural heritage.

Why should you care?

When it comes to endangered species, Rep. Zinke has supported harmful legislation that would severely undermine the Endangered Species Act (ESA) and remove or block protections for hundreds of imperiled species, including the greater sage-grouse, northern long-eared bat and gray wolf. He also co-sponsored legislation that would have overturned an unprecedented and vitally important agreement to conserve the greater sage-grouse, and that would have effectively transferred management oversight of 60 million acres of federal lands to the states.

He even co-sponsored a bill that would block the Mexican gray wolf from being listed as an endangered subspecies under the ESA. It’s disturbing that Rep. Zinke has supported legislation that attacks our nation’s wildlife, when as Secretary of the Interior he will be tasked with protecting it.

The fact is that the Secretary of the Interior has a huge role in the stewardship of our natural lands, wildlife and habitat. Someone in this role should cherish America’s public lands and work mightily to sustain America’s wildlife, for the benefit of all Americans and for our children to come. But Rep. Zinke’s record speaks for itself, and here at Defenders of Wildlife we firmly believe he isn’t suitable for the job. This job is too important to give away to someone who doesn’t prioritize endangered species protection and habitat conservation. We shouldn’t let the fox guard the hen house. And that’s why we’re here, day in and day out, to hold Zinke and the entire Department of the Interior accountable to wildlife, wild lands and America.

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