In Kipling’s The Jungle Book, bandar-log (monkey people) are hypnotized by the gyrations of Kaa, the python. They then march zombie-like into his gaping jaws.
That scene comes to mind whenever I hear sportsmen gush about anti-environmental bureaucrats and politicians simply because they pretend to hunt and fish, have kids who hunt and fish or, as with Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, do hunt and fish.
Recall how the American Museum of Fly Fishing feted Vice President Dick Cheney as its “guest of honor” and dinner speaker at its annual meeting. Cheney—the man who gave the West its biggest fish kill when he attempted to wean Klamath River Chinook salmon of water, who trashed the Endangered Species Act, who virtually canceled the Clean Air and Clean Water acts, who suppressed science and ruined the lives of dedicated resource professionals.
In a Petersen’s Hunting article entitled “Why Sportsmen Should Vote for Donald Trump,” the author reveals that, on meeting the candidate, “my heart started to pound, my breath coming in short gulps.” The piece goes downhill even from there.
On Trump’s inauguration Outdoorhub offered this: “We as hunters, anglers and Americans can chalk this day up as a win for our sport.”
Sportsmen for Trump effused as follows: “Mr. Trump is the only candidate that will represent our values and protect our traditions. We sincerely hope that you join in our effort to see that he becomes the next Commander & Chief [sic] of our great country.”
Trump then proceeded to “represent” and “protect” sportsmen values and traditions by rendering toothless the Clean Water Act, emasculating the Stream Protection Rule, prioritizing fossil-fuel extraction over all other public-land uses, attempting to defund the EPA, Interior Department and Land and Water Conservation Fund, issuing an executive order for review of 27 national monuments (the better to extract oil and gas), pledging to prevent the imminent and needed demise of the coal industry and hiring Ryan Zinke, an oil-and-gas promoter in green drag, to run the Interior Department.
Zinke is defined by Matt Lee-Ashley, director of public lands for the Center for American Progress, as “a coal executive’s dream nominee” who has been “on a one-man crusade to preserve a massive loophole that allows coal companies to dodge royalty payments to Montana communities and U.S. taxpayers.”
In only two terms as Montana’s lone congressman Zinke accepted $300,000 in donations from the oil and gas industry and earned an environmental voting record, collated by the bi-partisan League of Conservation voters, of 4 percent.
Still, some sportsmen are happy. “Zinke a Good Choice as Interior Secretary,” proclaims Bowhunting.com, beginning its endorsement with: “We’ve seen far worse. Or don’t you remember James Watt?”
“I’m a Teddy Roosevelt conservationist,” declares Zinke.
Well, no; he’s not. TR, the first president to designate national monuments under the 1906 Antiquities Act, used that authority widely and wisely. Zinke is doing his best to prevent new national monuments and vandalize existing ones. For example, he held listening sessions on a draft bill that would impede future designations by requiring approval from state governors, counties and property owners. And he has made recommendations that would shrink Bears Ears National Monument in Utah and degrade current management. As a congressman Zinke stridently opposed and voted against designation of national monuments.
The Trump-Zinke attack on national monuments is fine and dandy with Sportsmen for Fish and Wildlife. “Secretary Zinke, who is an avid sportsman, was at the signing [of Trump’s executive order],” it states. “In our collective efforts we have given the small towns and sportsmen and ranchers a voice—a voice now being heard even in the White House.”
One might suppose that an “avid sportsman” would understand that you can’t restore imperiled birds like greater sage grouse by pumping out game-farm imitations. Not Zinke. Stock a bunch, he recommends; and cool it with “heavy-handed” habitat work.
The Sage Grouse Initiative, a joint venture by the Natural Resources Conservation Service and hundreds of other partners (many former adversaries), is a hugely successful effort to recover the species before the Fish and Wildlife Service is constrained to list it as endangered or threatened. This is the largest landscape planning effort in the history of wildlife management, and if it survives Zinke, it will be the most successful. Already it has permanently protected 723 square miles of sagebrush habitat through voluntary conservation easements and cleared another 750 square miles of invasive conifers. At least 350 other animal and plant species depend on sagebrush, including elk, pronghorn and mule deer.
But Zinke has compared sage-grouse management to Obamacare, complaining that it “is undermining the authority of sovereign states to manage our own land.” And he’s ordered a review to provide “greater flexibility” for states and industry. Jim Lyons, Interior’s former deputy assistant secretary for land and minerals management, characterizes that review as “a thinly veiled and unnecessary attempt to open up important habitat to oil and gas drilling.”
On July 7th Zinke released a draft environmental impact statement for 3,500 new oil and gas wells in Wyoming’s Upper Green River Valley, all within the winter concentration range of sage grouse and the major migration corridor for pronghorn. The project threatens to wipe out the already-stressed sage grouse population and exacerbate current Clean Air Act violations. The following day Zinke announced that Interior will accelerate fossil-fuel extraction by holding quarterly lease sales and, as soon as possible, issue new permits within 30 days rather than last year’s average of 257 days.
Zinke’s attack on sage grouse management reveals his true beliefs about state control of lands owned by all Americans. He keeps saying public lands should be kept in public hands. And while as a congressman he collected some good press by resigning from the Republican party’s platform committee when it advocated transfer of public lands to the states, he consistently supported the notion that public lands exist first and foremost for industrial resource extraction. For example, he voted for the Orwellian-named “Sportsmen’s Heritage and Recreation Enhancement Act” which would have allowed private interests to run motor vehicles and build roads and dams in federal wilderness. And, proclaiming that “Montana can manage our lands better than Washington,” he sponsored a bill that would have allowed management of federal lands by logging and mining interests and county commissioners.
On a recent trip to Alaska Zinke signed an order to “jump-start” oil-and-gas extraction in the National Petroleum Reserve and develop new drilling options on the North Slope, including the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
Anne Hedges of the Montana Environmental Information Center was something of a Congressman Zinke fan until he ran for Montana’s lieutenant general. After he lost, his limited commitment to fish and wildlife took wing. “The shift was like someone turning off a light switch,” Hedges told High Country News. “There was not much more room to work with him.”
There’s a fine line between hopeful, moderately positive responses to the election and appointment of politicians and bureaucrats (that can pave the way for future communication) and gushing to the point of providing a pass for continued bad behavior.
The better sportsmen’s outfits are usually pretty good at toeing that line, issuing measured statements like this from the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership’s CEO Whit Fosburgh: “We have followed him [Zinke] since he was elected to Congress and found him to be for industry and development but also for conservation…. There is no doubt we will disagree but I am confident in his willingness to listen and understand our positions.” Backcountry Hunters and Anglers and Trout Unlimited respectively weighed in with: “Mr. Zinke has showed himself to be receptive to the interests of a wide range of constituents and a potential [emphasis added] ally of sportsmen,” and “We remain committed to working with Secretary Zinke to ensure that the management of our public lands is guided by these core principles [science-based decisions, citizen involvement, and protecting and restoring fish and wildlife habitat].”
Since then all three groups have publicly scolded Trump and Zinke for copious assaults on sportsmen’s best interests.
Hunters and anglers are too easily seduced by candidates who bloviate about the Second Amendment or flounce around at photo ops with borrowed fly rods and shotguns. Sportsmen need to pay more attention to what those candidates do and less attention to what they say. And when politicians and appointed officials work against fish and wildlife, sportsmen need to get loudly on their cases, then vote the right way.
Was James Watt really worse than Ryan Zinke, as Bowhunting.com claims? We’ll have to wait and see. But if Zinke stays his current course, it can be argued that Watt was better in that he was sufficiently stupid to get fired for bragging that he’d hired “a black, a woman, two Jews and a cripple.”
Stupid, Zinke is not.
The public comment period regarding the Department of Interior's review of national monuments ends June 10. As of this writing, over 1.3 million comments have been received.