President-elect Donald Trump has said he’ll nominate U.S. Rep. Ryan Zinke, R-Mont., a former Navy SEAL and a lifelong hunter, to head the U.S. Department of the Interior. This federal agency oversees the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), the Bureau of Land Management and more, along with about 75 percent of our public lands.
To understand how important choices for secretary of the interior and other federal agencies can be for gun owners, let’s step back in time for a moment.
In early 2000 I interviewed President Bill Clinton’s director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), Jamie Rappaport Clark, after the USFWS had been caught dipping into funds raised from taxes on guns and ammunition as if it were a slush fund to be used for pet projects, such as the wolf reintroduction in the Yellowstone area. She didn’t deny it, but continually had her attorneys answer my questions.
Not long thereafter, thanks to lobbying from your NRA, Congress passed legislation to prevent this from ever happening again. When Bill Clinton left office, Clark went on to a job at the animal-rights group Defenders of Wildlife. She is now its president and CEO.
At the time, long-serving employees with the USFWS were contacting me to thank me for the articles and to say that the wildlife agencies were being aggressively gutted of sportsmen and gun owners. They were being replaced with environmentalists who didn’t hunt or own guns. This forced cultural shift was affecting policies such as how the American public is permitted to use our public lands; for example, such personnel were more likely to be antagonistic to those who shoot recreationally on public lands. This forced cultural shift was affecting policies such as how the American public is permitted to use our public lands …
So, not long before this past election, I asked Donald Trump Jr., who is a gun owner and hunter, what type of people a Trump administration would nominate to these posts.
Trump Jr. told me: “Last Christmas in Florida, our whole family was seated around a big table, like so many families do all over America. My father was talking about how to make America great again when he turned to me from the head of the table and joked, ‘Don, you’d make a hell of a Secretary of the Interior; no, wait a second, you’d probably just go to Alaska to check on how our policies are affecting wildlife and never come back.”
He was joking of course, said Trump Jr., but then added: “Wouldn’t it be great to bring in a sportsman to run the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and a conservationist (not a radical environmentalist) in to run the U.S. Forest Service? How about bringing a real farmer or rancher in to run the Department of Agriculture? What about having a farmer or rancher head the EPA? My dad will bring people into government who will be leaders, who will provide focus and direction for these departments and agencies and who will get these departments and agencies to focus on their missions rather than on advancing some political agenda.”
Don Jr. said, “I will help vet who he will nominate to run the Department of the Interior—I know who all the right people are to ask for insight and perspective on this, and they will be privately asked to weigh in. I will be there to make sure the people who run the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and so on know how much sportsmen do for wildlife and conservation and that, for the sake of us all, they value the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation.”
The nomination of Rep. Zinke to run Interior is an important one. Zinke’s biography reads like that of a candidate built for this job. He studied geology as an undergraduate at the University of Oregon, then went on to serve as a Navy SEAL from 1986 to 2008. He then entered politics, serving in the Montana state Senate from 2009 to 2011 before running for Montana’s single congressional seat in the U.S. House of Representatives. His campaign was successful, and during his tenure in the House, he has served on the Natural Resources Committee, as well as the Armed Services Committee.
Zinke’s willingness to fight for our our freedoms as a member of the Armed Forces, his defense of public access to federal lands during his time in office, and his lifelong love of hunting make him superbly well qualified to bring great things for those of us who hunt and/or shoot recreationally.