Letters from the West

As a hunter and outdoorsman, Interior nominee Zinke reflects Trump Jr.’s Western views

Montana Republican Rep. Ryan Zinke was cheered by the outdoors conservation group Backcountry Hunters and Anglers even before he became President-elect Trump’s official nominee for Interior secretary.

The Montana-based group that likes not just elk and trout but also grizzly bears and wilderness has been fighting efforts to turn federal lands over to states. Zinke, a retired Navy SEAL, backed away from such plans when Montanans squawked. But Zinke also has expressed support for making it easier to develop resources on federal lands.

Those two positions mirror what Donald Trump Jr., his father’s main voice for the West, told a mixed group of hunters, oil drillers and coal miners when he spoke in Grand Junction, Colo., in September. His father has pledged to honor Theodore Roosevelt’s tradition of conservation in the West.

But that doesn’t mean Trump isn’t going to shake some things up. His promise to return government to the people could mean a lot of things in the West, good and bad. If the beneficiaries are only Texas oil billionaires, get ready for a wild ride.

But if it means the hunters, anglers, conservationists, Indian tribes, local officials, ranchers, loggers, miners, outfitters and even forest rangers and range managers are going to be empowered to find local solutions for managing the 600 million acres of public lands we love, it might turn out exciting. Teddy Roosevelt, after all, created lots of national parks and the Bureau of Reclamation.

No one will be saying Yellowstone is great if Trump allows oil wells in the national park.

The Associated Press reported Thursday morning that Zinke had accepted Trump’s offer to be the nominee. A week ago, U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., was the Woman of the Hour, with the press reporting she’d been offered the job. Then on Monday Idaho Republican Rep. Raul Labrador went to Trump Tower and talked about immigration and Interior issues with Trump. Labrador serves with Zinke on the House Resources Committee, but Labrador is not the traditional western outdoorsman who loves to hunt and fish the way Zinke is.

Trump has shown us repeatedly that his transition process is not over for any job until he says it’s over. Idaho Gov. Butch Otter, said to be in the early running for Interior, now appears to be in the mix for Ag secretary. The U.S. Forest Service is under the Agriculture Department, so that post is important for western public lands and fire management issues, as well as dairy, cattle, potatoes and other Idaho exports that Otter loves to tout on his trade missions.

Former Texas Gov. Rick Perry also appears to have a seat in the cabinet as the secretary of Energy. He’s getting a lot of ribbing for the fact the Energy Department was one of the three federal agencies he wanted to eliminate, but couldn’t remember during a 2012 GOP presidential debate.

Perry will find that the agency has more to do with nuclear waste, power and stockpiles than with the oil and gas industry he knows from Texas. The Trump administration’s impact on the Idaho National Laboratory, even if he decides to eliminate the agency, would come only if he decides to back away from nuclear power and the INL’s nuclear research mission. Just a reminder: the Energy Department provides thousands of jobs and about a $1 billion budget at the 890-square-mile site in eastern Idaho.

INL’s cybersecurity role is growing and its waste mission is locked in by the 1995 Batt Nuclear Waste Agreement. Since we are the only state that has such a deal in writing backed up by courts, we’re in a pretty good place.

The Department of Defense would pick up much of the Energy Department mission were it eliminated, but its future depends on the nation’s commitment to research, development and science.

What would Trump do with the Bonneville Power Administration, the Energy Department agency that markets electricity from the Pacific Northwest dams? For years, the Reagan budget proposed selling off its public grid, but the might of the united bipartisan Northwest congressional delegation protected the agency like its own private piggy bank. It’s not clear the current delegation would stand together or have the power to stop a move free-market libertarians would love.

Rocky Barker: 208-377-6484, @RockyBarker

Trump on Zinke

Donald Trump’s statement on Ryan Zinke:

“He has built one of the strongest track records on championing regulatory relief, forest management, responsible energy development and public land issues. As a former Navy SEAL, he has incredible leadership skills and an attitude of doing whatever it takes to win. America is the most beautiful country in the world and he is going to help keep it that way with smart management of our federal lands.”

Zinke’s statement:

“As inscribed in the stone archway of Yellowstone National Park in Gardiner, Montana, I shall faithfully uphold Teddy Roosevelt’s belief that our treasured public lands are ‘for the benefit and enjoyment of the people.’ I will work tirelessly to ensure our public lands are managed and preserved in a way that benefits everyone for generations to come. Most important, our sovereign Indian Nations and territories must have the respect and freedom they deserve.”