Leadore rancher Carl Lufkin is optimistic that Montana Republican Congressman Ryan Zinke, who lives across the mountains from Lukin’s snow-covered ranch, will limit the new regulations he and other Idaho ranchers face to protect sage grouse.
President-elect Donald Trump picked Zinke, a fifth-generation Montanan, former state senator and 23-year U.S. Navy SEAL as his nominee to be Interior secretary. The hunter and fisherman would become the nation’s top wildlife manager and landlord of more than 500 million acres of national parks, federal rangeland and wildlife refuges. That includes more than 16 million acres in Idaho, from the Owyhee Canyonlands to Yellowstone National Park.
Zinke, 55, who has pushed more oil drilling and multiple-use development on federal lands, would manage more than 600 dams across the West, be responsible for 68 percent of the nation’s oil and gas reserves and oversee millions of acres of federal mining lands. He’d serve as the chief trustee for American Indian tribes and administers territorial affairs in places like the Marshall Islands and Guam.
It is vitally important to have a Westerner leading the Department of the Interior. Having our neighbor from Montana leading the department will be good for Idaho because of our similar values on public lands and the importance of continued access to these special places we love to visit.
Idaho Republican Rep. Mike Simpson
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If confirmed by the Senate, he’ll lead 70,000 employees with an annual departmental budget of more than $20 billion.
Zinke will step into the thorny controversy over how to protect sage grouse, which depends on the remaining 173 million acres of sagebrush ecosystem in 11 states for its survival. The plan put in place by Interior Secretary Sally Jewell would stop oil and gas leasing and mining on 10 million acres and place new restrictions on cattle grazing that ranchers said brought uncertainty to their operations.
“I think that’s going to be slowed down now,” said rancher Lufkin.
In his statement, Zinke promised to “faithfully uphold Teddy Roosevelt’s belief that our treasured public lands are ‘for the benefit and enjoyment of the people,’” he said. He also committed himself to ensuring “sovereign Indian nations ... the respect and freedom they deserve.”
Trump said Zinke “has built one of the strongest track records on championing regulatory relief, forest management, responsible energy development and public lands issues.”
Conservation groups are split on Zinke’s record and what it might mean for Idaho.
LISTENING TO HUNTERS, ANGLERS
He gets low marks from environmental groups on his voting record, but is praised for listening to hunters and anglers and backing away from Montana legislation that would have supported transferring federal lands to states. Zinke also supported keeping the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which uses offshore oil and gas revenues for land protection and conservation and recreation projects.
“We know he will listen to all sides and that he knows he doesn’t have all the answers,” said Tom France, Northern Rockies representative of the National Wildlife Federation.
It is welcomed news that a Westerner has been nominated to run the Interior Department. I look forward to working with someone who understands and has advocated for the issues most pressing to Western states.
Idaho Republican Sen. Jim Risch
“Rep. Zinke has consistently supported harmful, anti-wildlife legislation that would severely undermine the Endangered Species Act and remove or block protections for hundreds of imperiled species, including gray wolves and greater sage grouse,” said Defenders of Wildlife President Jamie Rappaport Clark.
Idaho Conservation League Executive Director Rick Johnson took a different tack.
“He’s somebody who hunts and fishes and knows what it means to live here in the West,” Johnson said. “I think that matters.”
POWERLINES, WIND PLANTS, SOLAR FARMS
Zinke will confront issues that cross the energy and environmental front. Idaho is awaiting a final decision on the Gateway West high-power transmission line project planned from near Glenrock, Wyo. to near Melba, 20 miles southwest of Boise. It would deliver up to 1,500 megawatts of transmission capacity in southern Wyoming and Southern Idaho — enough to power 975,000 homes. But the Bureau of Land Management, an Interior agency, must decide how much of the powerline it will allow on the Morley Nelson Snake River Birds of Prey National Conservation Area.
Future decisions will come on the proposed transmission line that would go from Melba to Boardman, Ore., as well as other major infrastructure proposed for public land from wind plants to solar power. The BLM will make decisions on natural gas leasing as a part of upcoming land management plan updates for southwest Idaho.
Zinke also will jointly oversee the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise. along secretary of agriculture (who supervises the Forest Service) and face the growing size and ferocity of wildfire across the West.
Mike Guerry is a rancher south of Twin Falls and one of the founders of the Three Creek Rangeland Fire Association, a local firefighting team organized to work with the BLM.
“My hope is we have a continuation of the multiple-use thought process,” Guerry said.
Both he and Lufkin have developed good relationships with the local managers of the federal agencies Zinke will now lead. Neither man is expecting a dramatic management transformation.
“They will be limited by the budget,” said Leadore’s Lufkin. “The grassroots staff are overwhelmed. I’m sympathetic.”