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Would Montana's Zinke Protect Wildlife as Interior Secretary?

A confirmation hearing for Interior Secretary nominee Ryan Zinke is scheduled for today. (Gage Skidmore/Flickr)
A confirmation hearing for Interior Secretary nominee Ryan Zinke is scheduled for today. (Gage Skidmore/Flickr)
January 17, 2017

HELENA, Mont. – Montana's Ryan Zinke is scheduled for his confirmation hearing today to become secretary of the Interior. If confirmed, the first-term congressman would guide the nation's public lands, wildlife and natural resources. But Zinke's sometimes contradictory voting record has conservationists wondering where he stands on these issues.

Bob Dreher, vice president for conservation programs at Defenders of Wildlife, says Zinke's history when it comes to protecting endangered species isn't encouraging. Of note is a bill Zinke co-sponsored that would have undercut a multi-state effort to protect the greater sage grouse.

"We have significant concerns about whether Rep. Zinke is going to be able to take a national perspective on the role of the secretary of the Interior as steward of the federal public lands and steward of wildlife and steward of all the natural resources that the federal government owns," he said.

Dreher points out that the Interior Department oversees a vast array of agencies, including the Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Bureau of Indian Affairs, National Park Service and more.

Executive director of the Montana Wilderness Association, Brian Sybert, says the congressman has voted for legislation that would allow for development in wilderness areas, hurting wildlife. He describes Zinke's voting record when it comes to public lands as "checkered."

"Given sometimes supporting keeping public lands in public hands, but also at times supporting legislation that could undermine public-lands management and the public's ability to play a role in influencing our public lands," said Sybert.

At the beginning of this month, Zinke approved a rule change that Sybert criticizes as a step toward transferring public lands to states. The rule change accounts for such a transfer as budget neutral, meaning costs for this action would not have to be offset with the U.S. Treasury. After the vote, Zinke maintained that he does not support the transfer of public lands to states.

Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - MT