Meet the Interior Department official who wants to give away America’s public lands

By giving Todd Wynn a job, Ryan Zinke shows his true colors

Todd Wynn (Cascade Policy Institute), Secretary Ryan Zinke (Department of the Interior), Utah’s Golden Cathedral (Wikimedia Commons)

When Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke launched his attack on America’s national monuments this April, he insisted that President Trump’s executive order wouldn’t lead to a giveaway of America’s public lands.

“I am absolutely against transfer and sale of public lands,” Zinke said at the time. “I can’t be more clear.”

What’s now clear, however, is that Secretary Zinke’s actions don’t match his words — and he’s surrounding himself at the Interior Department with passionate supporters of land seizure efforts.

Todd Wynn | LinkedIn

DeSmogBlog this week published an extensive profile of Todd Wynn, the Interior Department’s new Director of Intergovernmental and External Affairs. DeSmogBlog highlights Wynn’s past statements denying climate science and criticizing wind and solar power. At his previous positions with far-right groups including the Cascade Policy Institute and the American Legislative Exchange Council — better known as ALEC, the infamous far-right “bill mill” — Wynn was a vocal advocate for the Koch brothers’ industry-friendly agenda, attacking everything from the Environmental Protection Agency to the use of renewable energy in Oregon.

Wynn’s disdain for the government he now works for goes far deeper than that, however. During his tenure at ALEC it became a leading force behind the effort to dispose of millions of acres of national public lands into state and private hands.

Although Wynn’s efforts failed spectacularly in almost all state legislatures last year, in 2013 he sang the praises of Utah’s HB 148, a bill that has taken the state to the brink of a multimillion-dollar lawsuit to try to force the American people to hand over ownership of public lands to the state of Utah.

HB 148 became one of ALEC’s “model bills” handed out to extremist legislators across the West, hoping to spark a movement that would dispose of hundreds of millions of acres of publicly-owned land that’s used by hikers, sportsmen, and ranchers today.

Wynn, after touting other states that adopted bills inspired by HB 148, calls on state legislators to take back “their” land:

“In 2014, expect more states to press this issue both in the East and the West as state legislators are likely to continue to work together through ALEC and other organizations in order to gain back their land.”

Wynn is claiming that America’s parks and public lands should rightly be under the control of state legislators, not the American people. This is the language used by land seizure advocates like the American Lands Council, whose founder, Utah State Rep. Ken Ivory, was the primary sponsor of Utah’s HB 148.

Wynn knows this is false. The residents of every Western state long ago agreed that public lands belong to all Americans — it was a condition of statehood. Utah’s enabling act, for example, says Utahns “do agree and declare that they forever disclaim all right and title to the unappropriated public lands” in the state. Similar language can be found in every other Western state’s constitution or enabling act.

Karen Budd-Falen

More troubling, however, is that Todd Wynn’s agenda does not appear to be an outlier in Ryan Zinke’s Interior Department. Zinke’s top choice to run the Bureau of Land Management is said to be Karen Budd-Falen, a Wyoming attorney who dedicated her career to undermining the agency she may soon run. Budd-Falen even represented Cliven Bundy, the Nevada rancher currently awaiting trial for leading a 2014 standoff with law enforcement.

We don’t know whether Budd-Falen will ultimately get the job. Secretary Zinke recently lamented that “the resistance” was blocking his efforts to fill open jobs in his department, despite the fact that Zinke himself has yet to nominate anyone for 10 of the 14 remaining Senate-confirmable positions at Interior, including Bureau of Land Management director.

Wynn, however, didn’t need Senate confirmation to take his assault on American public lands from the Koch network to the Interior Department. He quietly started his new job this month, where he’s tasked with strengthening “relationships between state and local partners and external stakeholders” and Secretary Zinke.

The Interior Department manages more than 600 million acres of land on behalf of the American people. Considering Todd Wynn’s history with “stakeholders” like ALEC and extremist state legislators who claim America’s land as their own, it appears that Secretary Zinke’s claims about not giving away public lands were hollow promises at best.

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