Wednesday, January 11, 2017

DuBois column

Donald Trump, Donald Trump, Jr., Ryan Zinke and the future of The West

The Zinke Zone

Disappointment. Relief. Near elation. Disappointment.

Those are the gamut of my emotions with Donald Trump winning the Republican nomination for President, Trump winning the general election and Trump nominating Ryan Zinke for Secretary of Interior.

Let me explain.

The political stars were lining up for a tremendous historical moment – the transfer of significant amounts of federal land to the states. With the issue on the front burner and Republican control of all three branches of government, one could see the light at the end of a dark, dark tunnel. Then the Republicans nominated the only candidate in the primary who opposed such a transfer, thus the disappointment.

However, relief was still felt with Trump’s victory in the general election. I’m not sure the West, as we know it, would have survived eight years of Hillary, or a total of sixteen years of environmental onslaught.

Surprisingly, with word leaking to the press that U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers would be nominated for Secretary of Interior, came near elation. She was a supporter of the transfer of lands, having cosponsored legislation to transfer lands already identified by the Bureau of Land Management for disposal.

The smile was quickly wiped from my face when the actual nominee was U.S. Rep. Ryan Zinke, an avowed opponent of such a transfer. So much so that he actually resigned his position on the Republican Platform Committee because it contained the following statement:

The federal government owns or controls over 640 million acres of land in the United States, most of which is in the West. These are public lands, and the public should have access to them for appropriate activities like hunting, fishing, and recreational shooting. Federal ownership or management of land also places an economic burden on counties and local communities in terms of lost revenue to pay for things such as schools, police, and emergency services. It is absurd to think that all that acreage must remain under the absentee ownership or management of official Washington. Congress shall immediately pass universal legislation providing for a timely and orderly mechanism requiring the federal government to convey certain federally controlled public lands to states. We call upon all national and state leaders and representatives to exert their utmost power and influence to urge the transfer of those lands, identified in the review process, to all willing states for the benefit of the states and the nation as a whole. The residents of state and local communities know best how to protect the land where they work and live. They practice boots-on-the-ground conservation in their states every day.

Notice the statement refers to only “certain” federal lands. That’s because most proposals would leave all military posts and Native American reservations in federal hands, along with all National Parks, Monuments, Wilderness and Wilderness Study Areas. And yet, he resigned.

Notice also the statement refers to “willing” states. The transfers would only occur in those states who wanted the transfer to happen. If Zinke’s home state of Montana preferred the lands remain federal, then no transfer would occur. And yet, he resigned, denying that opportunity to other states.

Notice also the statement contains the Jeffersonian-influenced language that “state and local communities know best how to protect the land where they work and live.” Zinke must think otherwise, as he resigned.  The DC Deep Thinkers have an ally.

Conservative Conservationist?

In April of 2016, Zinke authored an opinion piece for the Billings Gazette titled A Conservative Case For Conservation. Therein he opined:

Being a conservative and being a conservationist are not mutually exclusive. It’s conservative principles that drive my commitment to conservation… Party leaders and I don’t always see eye-to-eye on conservation issues, but they always know where I stand. Selling off our public lands is a non-starter. I’ve voted against budget resolutions and bucked party leadership on more than a couple occasions to defend our lands.

Zinke says it is “conservative principles” that drive his conservation.  Please show me the conservative principle that says we should have a government large enough to control almost one out of every three acres in our country. Show me the conservative principle that endorses central planning by the feds over state, local and private planning. Furthermore, Zinke has supported legislation to permanently fund the Land & Water Conservation fund (for federal land acquisition). I’m waiting to see the conservative principle that calls for expanding the size and influence of the central government.

Shot down by hunters

If one seeks to determine why Trump has adopted this policy and nominated someone like Zinke, one is invariably led to Donald Trump, Jr.

Trump, Jr. is a long-time member of the NRA, is the youngest person ever voted into the Boone & Crockett Club, and has hunted all over the world. His father, now the President, has said his son would make a great Secretary of Interior. "The big joke at Christmas this year was that the only job in government that I would want is with the Department of Interior," Trump Jr. told Wide Open Spaces. "I understand these issues. It's something I'm passionate about. I will be the very loud voice about these issues in my father's ear. No one gets it more than us." Trump, Jr. opposes the transfer of lands, just as do the elite hunting organizations, and a source from the Interior transition team told CNN “balancing the Trump siblings' natural inclinations toward conservation has been a key factor in the search for someone to run the Interior Department.”

I recall that not long after receiving my appointment to the Dept. of Interior the NRA called and invited me to have lunch with them. There had been some controversy over using BLM lands for shooting ranges during the Carter administration, and I figured that would be their main concern. There are two things about that lunch meeting I vividly remember. First, I wasn’t all that impressed with the wild rice and some kind of duck that was served up. And second, the first issue they brought up was not shooting ranges, but what could be done about livestock grazing that was harming wildlife habitat all over the West.

These hook and bullet boys are not our friends.  They support Wilderness, the Endangered Species Act, and continued federal retention and control of natural resources. Their idea of multiple use is to have multiple hunting seasons on their special, preserved, federal lands.

The irony here is that Trump was portrayed as an outsider who would shake up “the establishment.” When it comes to Interior, he has instead reached out to the Republican old guard and handed them the keys to the castle.

Trump tinker toys

Why do I put so much emphasis on the land transfer issue? Because I believe it is our only chance to keep these lands productive and of value to local communities and the West in general. The current model of federal ownership, control and management will be most influenced by groups with the largest membership, the most money, the largest law firms, and the most offices in D.C. And that, my friends, ain’t the cowboys.

Instead of a major change on the range, we can look forward to four years of tinkering. Tinkering with the grazing regulations, with the policy manuals, and possibly some of the Executive Orders. There will be calls for more “collaboration”, for solutions that involve “all stakeholders” and other such nonsense. No major changes, and nothing that can’t be changed by the next administration.

I’ve been down that road before and I’ve come to realize that it is playing the establishment’s game, and the game is rigged in their favor.

The possibility for permanent, positive change was there, but appears to have been “trumped” by the existing power structure. There will be no “draining of the swamp” at Interior. Quite the contrary. And that brings great sadness to my heart.

Till next time, be a nuisance to the devil and don’t forget to check that cinch.

 Frank DuBois was the NM Secretary of Agriculture from 1988 to 2003, is the author of a blog: The Westerner ( and is the founder of The DuBois Rodeo Scholarship and The DuBois Western Heritage Foundation

 This column originally appeared in the January issue of The New Mexico Stockman and the January issue of The Livestock Market Digest.


Anonymous said...

We've got to get rid of the Eco-extremists from .gov agencies. By their own writings they were ushered in, getting federal, state, county jobs, during the jimmy Carter administration.
There really is a eco-socialist enviromental agenda. Earth1st, Sierra Club, Monkey Wrench Gang, Eco Warriors, Center for Biological Diversity, even NMWF, and many more.
Their edicts on environmentalism permeate education, schools, cartoons,news media, TV, movies, children's books and toys. So when young people go for careers in say the NRA, guess what they bring with them. Even if they have a good grasp of the 2nd Amendment.
Ranches put in conservation easement trusts or become buffalo ranches take out a huge tax base from counties, irretrievable that others have to make up.
Look around; Cowboys and no cattle.
Americans don't need division like 0bama has done to the races.

Tom Sidwell said...

I too am disappointed in Zinkes' nominatiopn. Will this also mean that we may not get reform in the Endangered Species Act? Will he oppose any reform attempts?
I brought up the issue of transfer of public lands before the NM demoncrat "Job creation" listening tour and asked them to support a study of the costs and benefits of transfer of public lands such as the State of Utah had commissioned. Blank stares!
I pointed out that the legislators desire to increase revenues to the state through diversified sources and that ownership of the public lands would generate revenue for the state through such things as reviving the timber industry. I mentioned the PERC report that showed for every $1 the feds spend on federal land they lose $1.70. On the other hand, the NM State Land Office returns $14 for every $1 spent. Blank stares!!

Unknown said...

I'm a cowboy and I am also a shooter. But, I have always said that I do not support the NRA for the same reason I do not support the NAACP. They both uphold certain parts of the Constitution but dump on others.

This also confirms a long feeling that there is not a dime's worth of difference in any of them. All the demopublicans and the republicrats ever argue over is how they want to spend the stolen money.

Transferring these lands to the States would be a great improvement but would not necessarily be the best ultimate end.

As is apparent in Jefferson's Declaration of Independence, America was founded on the Philosophy of John Locke who explained the process of the creation of "property rights." If a man finds a previously unclaimed resource (no "squatters" allowed) and mixes his labor (Locke's term was "sweat") with it, the resulting product is an extension of him and is, therefore, his property.

These lands need to be returned to their rightful owners (and/or their heirs and assigns)-- the families who have 4 or 5 generations of sweat equity in the lands (or those who have rightfully purchased those property rights through voluntary exchange).

I am hopeful but I doubt seriously that we will ever see it happen.

Anonymous said...

The BLM land should have been transferred years ago, like it was in the Eastern half of the USA. Prosperity comes from Private ownership. If Trump truly wants to make the USA great again then he should facilitate the transfer.

I live in the Eastern Half of the USA. I do not like the fact that the US Taxpayer has to fund what is referred to as "Payment in lieu of Taxes" to the Counties in the Western Half of the USA. If Trump desires to cut unnecessary Federal Spending then he should help transfer the BLM land to the States.