OPINION: Zinke’s vote on public lands bill contrary to the Montana ethos

Public lands debate

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We Montanans are a diverse bunch, but we stand united on a few key issues.

We value our outdoor opportunities — and the public lands and waters that make possible activities like hiking, hunting, fishing, floating and camping. We value honesty, authenticity and dependability. We elect — and support — leaders who we believe embody those qualities and share our values.

We’re disappointed, therefore, to learn that Rep. Ryan Zinke, our lone member of Congress, recently undertook actions that are completely inconsistent with Montana’s ethos — and that break promises he made to Montana voters.

On June 15 in Washington, D.C., the House Natural Resources Committee convened a hearing to consider 19 bills. Two of them, the State National Forest Management Act (H.R. 3650), introduced by Rep. Don Young of Alaska, and the Self-Sufficient Community Lands Act (H.R. 2316), introduced by Rep. Raul Labrador of Idaho, would spell trouble for our national public lands and outdoor opportunities. The bills would legislate the transfer of millions of acres of public lands and jeopardize the health of America’s national forest system, fish and wildlife habitat, and public access to quality hunting and fishing.

Both of these bills, unfortunately, advanced to the House floor following votes by members of the committee.

Where did Rep. Zinke stand on these two important measures? The congressman, who has pledged his support of Montana values, our lands and waters, and our outdoor opportunities — and who claims himself a sportsman who appreciates the importance of America’s national public lands — voted to advance into law H.R. 2316. This bill is an affront to our public lands legacy. It not only goes against the will of the American people, including Montanans; it also attacks the very foundation of our national outdoor heritage.

Given his past, public stances in support of measures like the Land and Water Conservation Fund, a crucial tool for conservation and expanding public access to the out of doors, and his stated opposition to the sale of public lands, Rep. Zinke’s vote is all the more confusing.

As framed, H.R. 2316 is nothing more than public-lands exploitation that cuts out hunters, anglers and other outdoor recreationists from the management of these lands for the sole purpose of generating revenue for counties and local governments. While federal management isn’t perfect, as things currently stand we at least have a seat at the table and can make our voices heard. If H.R. 2316 becomes law, we’ll be left with nothing but an empty plate.

Worth noting is that Rep. Zinke also cast a vote against Rep. Young’s bad bill, H.R. 3650. While this vote is praiseworthy, it only serves to underscore the congressman’s inconsistency. Rep. Zinke prides himself on being a straight shooter who calls it like he sees it. He calls himself a Theodore Roosevelt Republican. That’s why we’re so confused. His recent votes reveal a dramatically different politician: one who waffles on a key issue critical to the very people he claims to represent.

Theodore Roosevelt set into motion our vast public-lands estate for multiple use to avoid rampant exploitation of our nation’s forests. This bill does exactly what Roosevelt was trying to avoid: putting short-term economic benefit ahead of long-term wise use.

Rep. Zinke wants to have it both ways on public lands. Montanans, however, are smart enough to see through that. The congressman would be wise to reconsider his recent actions — and think long and hard about the legacy he wants to leave his constituents and our great state.


John Sullivan and Hannah Ryan, both of Missoula, co-chair the Montana chapter of Backcountry Hunters and Anglers.

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