Donald Trump Jr. has emerged as his father’s main voice on Western public lands issues.
The interview he got his father to do with Field and Stream boosted his support in the primary with hunters and anglers, especially when the elder Trump rejected the idea of transferring or selling federal lands to the states. The transfer idea has been so popular with Western Republicans that it was included in the party platform.
The elder Trump later opened the door slightly, saying he’d consider some transfers to states near urban areas. But Trump Jr., 38, said his father would “keep public lands public and accessible,” when he spoke in Grand Junction, Colo., Sept. 22.
“We can have grazing, we can have energy, we can have hunting and fishing on the same lands.,” he said to an audience of hunters, oil-patch workers, ranchers and their families. “We can multipurpose these lands, and we can do it in a way that’s smart and preserves the land and everybody wins, and we can see some of that prosperity come back to this country.”
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to The Idaho Statesman
We are going to make sure we take advantage of our natural resources; that we can keep our public lands open for the outdoorsmen. And, by the way, we can have the best of both worlds.
Donald Trump Jr.
Donald Trump’s biggest hurdle in this campaign is the uncertainty and unpredictability he presents on a wide basket of issues. But on what are considered Western issues — public lands, energy development, outdoor recreation — his son has led him toward the traditional Republican approaches.
After business school, Trump Jr. tended bar in Aspen, Colo., for a year. An avid hunter, he’s on the board of the Boone and Crockett Club for hunters, and a member of Trout Unlimited and the Backcountry Hunters and Anglers. He owns snowmobiles and ATVs.
The candidate “would like to see multiple-use continue,” said Layne Bangerter, Trump’s Idaho state director. “He cares about wildlife, but he wants balance.”
Bangerter is on leave from his job on Republican Sen. Mike Crapo’s staff. He has the ear of Trump Jr., he said, and has helped the son get up to speed on public land, wildlife and especially water issues.
The Trump campaign “has a clear policy that the states have sovereignty over water. That means the states are in control of water rights,” Bangerter said. “That’s music to our ears.”
Hillary Clinton also has signaled she will take the traditional Democratic positions on public lands, wildlife, national parks and, especially, climate change. Her approach has more of the details you would expect from a political and U.S. Senate veteran.
Clinton policy director Jake Sullivan told me in March Clinton would invest billions in programs to expand renewable energy — solar, wind, geothermal — by tenfold on public lands and expand spending through the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund, which makes grants for park and open space purchases.
A major focus is to improve access for hunters, anglers and recreationists by working with landowners whose property blocks entry to millions of acres of public land, Sullivan said. Perhaps Clinton can find a way to get the Wilks brothers — those Texas billionaires who have bought up land across the West and closed off access — to work with them.
But considering that one of Clinton’s other positions — closing off public lands to future oil and gas leasing, taken in the heat of her campaign against Bernie Sanders — she might find it hard to find common ground with the brothers, who made their fortune on fracking services and who backed Texas Sen. Ted Cruz.
Trump himself has stepped back from a full-blown embrace of oil and gas development, telling a Colorado reporter he thinks communities and states should have the local power to stop fracking if they choose.
“I’m in favor of fracking, but voters should have a big say in it,” Trump told KUSA TV in Denver. “Some areas, maybe they don’t want to have fracking. And I think if the voters are voting for it, that’s up to them.”
Clinton also has strayed from the progressive opposition to nuclear power. Sullivan, seeking Idaho votes in March against Sanders, suggested support for the industry that powers much of the Eastern Idaho economy.
“She believes nuclear energy has an important role to play in our clean-energy future,” Sullivan said. “With that in mind, the Idaho National Laboratory would be an important institution to promote our clean-energy policy.”
She sees the Snake and the Columbia rivers as linchpins for the economy of the whole Northwest. What she would want to do is work with local voices, local communities to strike the right balance.
Jake Sullivan, Clinton policy director
John Freemuth, Boise State University public policy professor and executive director of the Andrus Center for Public Policy, said four years of Clinton following the eight Obama years would bring a continuity to Western policy unseen since the Reagan and Bush years from 1985 through 1992.
But he’s not sure Western conservatives can expect Trump to always go their way.
So what can should Idahoans expect? If Trump is elected, Western Republicans will look to him for help pulling back on the restrictions to grazing and development in the sage grouse plan across 11 states. He’ll reverse programs aimed at fighting climate change.
Clinton will continue Obama’s efforts to move the economy away from fossil fuels, even if she has little chance of stopping all public land oil and gas leasing. On sage grouse, she may perhaps pick up on the Obama administration’s untested ideas of managing all lands across landscapes based on outcomes instead of uniform, often conflicting, rules.
Bangerter, who worked with Crapo on his collaborative effort to protect wilderness and ranchers in the Owyhees, believes Trump Jr. at least will be at home around an Idaho campfire.
“Remember, it was a Republican who protected the Owyhees,” Bangerter said. “It was Republicans who protected the Boulder-White Clouds.”