The next U.S secretary of the Interior? Rep. Ryan Zinke
Published December 14, 2106
BILLINGS, MONTANA – “Where the hell is he, my man!” then presidential candidate Donald Trump hollered as he took the stage for a rally in Billings, Montana, last May. Now the American people know: if the President-elect gets his way, his “man,” Rep. Ryan Zinke of Montana, will be at 1849 C Street NW in Washington, DC, at the head of the Department of the Interior. Shortly after that rally, GOAL Tribal Coalition predicted Zinke would hold high office in a Trump administration, with Interior his likely landing spot. GOAL, which remains one of the largest tribal coalitions in North America, is the force behind the campaign to keep the sacred grizzly bear out of trophy hunters gun sights, and to protect the ancestral tribal lands the grizzly presently occupies from an initial 28 mines identified by the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) in the rule it is about to approve that will remove the grizzly in Greater Yellowstone from the Endangered Species Act (ESA).
Following the emergence of what GOAL described as the “Zinke-Trump alliance,” the tribal coalition went on the offensive and after a widely reproduced editorial by the organization’s chairman, David Bearshield, Montana governor Steve Bullock wrote to GOAL’s founder, Don Shoulderblade. In his letter, Governor Bullock tried to justify his alignment with Zinke on the issue, but added that delisting “does not mean the state will initiate a grizzly bear hunting season.” With a trophy hunter from Montana about to run Interior, the governor’s claim appears as threatened as the bear. Zinke has championed the delisting and trophy hunting of the grizzly in direct opposition to every tribe in the state, either through resolutions, or being signatories to the historic “grizzly treaty.” Should Zinke be confirmed, Bullock will select his interim replacement in Congress from three nominees tabled by Republicans, before a special election is held.
“Ryan Zinke has a dismal 3 percent lifetime environmental voting record. His brief political career has been substantially devoted to attacking endangered species and the Endangered Species Act. He led efforts to strip federal protections for endangered wolves, lynx and sage grouse, voted to exempt massive agribusiness and water developers from Endangered Species Act limitations, and opposed efforts to crack down on the international black market ivory trade,” says Kierán Suckling, Executive Director of the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD). Suckling is referring to the Sportsmen’s Heritage and Recreational Enhancement Act. Under the “SHARE Act,” Zinke supports aerial gunning, the baiting of grizzly bears and denning wolves on national wildlife refuges in Alaska, hunting with hounds, and the use of steel-jawed leg traps. Under SHARE, “sportsmen” are able to import a limited number of polar bear carcasses and ivory from African elephants. Zinke, described by the NRA as an “avid” trophy hunter, has introduced legislation to “block threats from anti-hunting groups” that seek to limit hunting on federal lands, and when previously running for Lieutenant Governor, went on record to say that in respect to wildlife management, he took his lead from “ranchers and hunting guides across the state.”
“This is not a hunting issue, it is a killing issue,” explains Shoulderblade of the consequences of grizzly delisting. “We come from a subsistence culture, where there is ceremony and great respect accorded those beings you ask to offer their lives so that you might live. That is what you call a hunting tradition, not a killing tradition,” clarifies the Cheyenne Sun Dance Priest.
“The grizzly is sacred, our grandparent, not a ‘trophy game animal,’” he adds. Zinke was a high-profile attendee at this year’s Safari Club International convention in Las Vegas, the largest annual gathering of trophy hunters in the world. Sources report that Zinke replaced Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers as Trump’s pick for Interior after Don Trump, Jr., a fellow trophy hunter, met with Zinke and then lobbied for Montana’s congressman, who goes by “Commander Zinke.”
A former Navy SEAL, Zinke was once widely criticized in Montana’s press for fundraising emails that suggested he played a role in the killing of Osama bin Laden. Zinke had retired from the military three years before the Abbottabad raid.
“I think we need to be very cautious that we don’t fall into the colonial quagmire of ‘divide and conquer’ on Rep. Zinke’s apparent nomination,” warns Chief Stan Grier of the Piikani Nation. Grier’s recent commentary on McMorris Rodgers was widely praised by tribal leaders. “Rep. Zinke’s record needs to be viewed in totality, not isolation. His work on the Blackfeet Water Rights Settlement was important, as was his support of federal recognition for the Little Shell Tribe, but much of what he has said about tribal sovereignty relates to the development and access to fossil fuel extraction on tribal lands,” Chief Grier elaborates. Zinke’s record in Congress supports Grier’s assessment. “We need to invest in infrastructure projects like the Keystone pipeline,” says Trump’s Interior pick, while remaining silent on DAPL.
Like Trump, Zinke has been charged with using racial stereotypes, which the President-elect routinely dismisses as “political correctness.” At an address in Helena, the soon-to-be Secretary of the Interior informed a Republican audience that “nowhere” is “the dependence on the government more apparent” than on Indian reservations. “You go back to, you want to feed someone, you need to teach a person how to fish,” was Zinke’s follow-up on the poverty crippling Montana reservations. “In order to jumpstart job growth and economic development [on reservations] we need to get the federal government out of the way,” was how he later qualified his position, a stance contrary to the federal trust responsibility. In 2014, he opposed $344 million in funding for Violence Against Women programs in Indian Country, sought to repeal the Indian Health Care Improvement Act, and supported the budget proposed by Speaker Paul Ryan that would have cut $637 million from Indian Health Services. Congressman Zinke voted for the Native American Energy Act (NAEA), and the Indian Coal Production Tax Credit. Opponents fear NAEA will weaken the National Environmental Policy Act. “This could incentivize energy companies to partner with tribes simply for the benefit of skirting NEPA and profiting from restricted judicial review,” cautions Congressman Raúl Grijalva, an outspoken advocate for tribal rights.
“Zinke consistently votes for the interests of oil and gas companies, which is not surprising since Oasis Petroleum is his largest campaign contributor and the oil and gas industry is his third-largest sector contributor. He has also voted against and attacked the establishment of protective national monuments on public lands,” continues CBD’s Kierán Suckling. Chief Grier’s call for tribal solidarity and examining the ramifications of legislation like NAEA and the Zinke co-sponsored Tribal Labor Sovereignty Act that rolled back National Labor Relations Act regulations on tribal entity businesses is being echoed across Indian Country. “As contemporary tribal leaders we are stepping into the unknown with President-elect Trump,” begins Chairwoman Amber Torres of the Walker River Paiute Tribe. “Tribal unity is imperative. What detrimentally impacts one tribe will ultimately impact all tribes due to consequence and precedent.”
Walker River Paiute Tribal Chairwoman Amber Torres
Chairwoman Torres and Chairwoman Laurie Thom of the neighboring Yerington Paiute Tribe identify the decades-long struggle over the abandoned Anaconda Copper Mine as a major concern under a Trump EPA directed by Scott Pruitt. The mine has contaminated ground and surface waters, and local wells have been poisoned with uranium, arsenic, lead and other toxic chemicals. Both leaders signed the grizzly-tribal unity treaty yesterday, now the most signed treaty in history. “This document and its importance have taken on even greater urgency since the election. Our worries and fears are real,” concludes Chairwoman Torres.