The real Ryan Zinke just stood up

After a few short months on the job, it’s clear the Interior Secretary is on a mission to devastate America’s public lands

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke signs an order paving the way for oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, May 31, 2017

Five months ago, we wondered which Ryan Zinke would show up for work at the Interior Department: the Ryan Zinke who proclaimed his loyalty to Teddy Roosevelt, or the Ryan Zinke who consistently acted to undermine our public lands?

After watching the Interior secretary’s recent trips to Utah and New England, we can now safely (and sadly) state with confidence that it’s the latter. During this week’s budget hearings, members of Congress should ask where the other Ryan Zinke is hiding.

Zinke is on Capitol Hill to defend the indefensible: President Trump’s budget that proposes devastating cuts to America’s national parks. According to Zinke’s own budget justification, the budget would cut more than 1,200 jobs from the National Park Service, close campgrounds and facilities, and and reduce visitor services across the park system.

Camping in Pierre, SD | Mike Harmon, Department of the Interior

At the same time, the Trump/Zinke budget would slash national park facilities and maintenance spending by $92 million. Zinke likes to point to the $35 million increase in infrastructure spending in his budget proposal, but he has also proposed cutting his own maintenance budget by more than twice that, which would result in even more deferred maintenance in our national parks. An honest assessment of his budget request would acknowledge the unprecedented and devastating impact it would have on America’s crown jewels.

Secretary Zinke is also pushing President Trump toward another unprecedented move — attempting to eliminate or eviscerate Bears Ears National Monument in Utah. Despite Zinke’s promises to never sell off America’s public lands, shrinking Bears Ears would be a clear giveaway to oil and gas companies, which are already prepared to pounce if given the opportunity to drill amongst the archaeological sites and pristine landscapes of southern Utah.

Zinke with national monument opponents of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, May 10, 2017

When Zinke traveled to Utah last month, he refused to listen to supporters of the state’s national monuments, boarding a plane as a crowd led by local businesses chanted “talk to us” outside the airport gates. The secretary spent just 90 minutes of his four-day trip with monument backers, telling others to make their voices heard during the brief 15-day online public comment period.

Those voices were unmistakable: 99 percent of Americans and 88 percent of self-identified Utahns who submitted comments told Zinke to keep national monuments intact. Apparently unhappy with that outcome, Zinke shook his Magic 8-ball again, re-opening the Bears Ears comment period in hopes of getting a different answer.

Perhaps nowhere are Ryan Zinke’s words and deeds more divergent than when it comes to Native American tribes. During his confirmation hearing, Zinke said of the tribes, “sovereignty needs to mean something.”

But when he recommended President Trump toss out years of work by the sovereign tribal nations that led the effort to protect Bears Ears, Zinke outright lied, claiming tribes were “pretty happy and willing to work with us.” That statement was quickly rebuked by Navajo Nation delegate Davis Filfred, who said, “I haven’t been happy with him since day one. I don’t know what that word happy is.”

Marginalizing outside voices has become the modus operandi of the Interior Department. From lying about tribal support to ignoring public comment to silencing the locally-driven Resource Advisory Councils that gave rural residents a say in how their public lands are managed, Secretary Zinke has made it clear he is only paying lip service to Teddy Roosevelt’s legacy. The only voices that matter belong to oil, gas, and mining corporations. That’s the real Ryan Zinke.