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Californians Closely Watch Trump's Pick for Interior Secretary

Muir Woods National Monument near San Francisco is one of the many federally-managed public lands in California. (Nicolas Raymond)
Muir Woods National Monument near San Francisco is one of the many federally-managed public lands in California. (Nicolas Raymond)
January 18, 2017

SACRAMENTO, Calif. – During yesterday's confirmation hearing, Congressman Ryan Zinke, President-elect Donald Trump's pick to run the Interior Department, said he's committed to a balanced and sustainable approach for managing the nation's public lands.

But conservationists like Bob Dreher, vice president for conservation programs at Defenders of Wildlife, say the Montana Congressman hasn't done much for endangered species, and even co-sponsored a bill 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 explained.

Zinke's supporters say as a sportsman, he has defended public access to federal lands. However, just this month, he approved a rule change in the U.S. House that could be seen as a step toward allowing the transfer federal public lands to state control.

Who heads the Interior Department is especially important for California, with its many national parks and wild spaces. Interior oversees multiple agencies, including the Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Bureau of Indian Affairs, National Park Service and more.

Carolyn Finney is on the National Park System Advisory Board.

"We need our public lands to survive," she said. "It's not simply about going and having a place to recreate, but that our public lands actually tell us something about who we are as Americans, what our history is."

Zinke told the Senate's Energy and Natural Resources Committee he supports oil and gas development on federal lands to boost the economy. Political strategists suggest he is unlikely to face much opposition, even from Democrats, because his appointment removes Zinke from running against Montana Democratic Senator Jon Tester in 2018.

Logan Pollard, Public News Service - CA