Montana Republican Ryan Zinke has been saying he is a Theodore Roosevelt conservationist his entire political career. To thwart potential criticism and pressure, he throws the term about like a madman waving a burning tire at the end of a pole. Roosevelt is best remembered as a rancher, hunter, decorated military veteran, conservationist, and the president who began the government's role in environmental protection. Looking at Zinke's voting record and politics, there are no similarities.
Zinke's voting record speaks against Roosevelt’s ideals: supporting legislation to sell public lands to pay off the national debt, backing the transfer of public lands to states, opposing the North Fork Protection Act ("I didn't like that bill... because it took natural development out for perpetuity forever”), supporting a bill that would turn over Montana’s public lands to developers, signing the Montana constitutional plan that includes resolutions to sell public land, blocking access to more fishing and hunting on public land, endorsing a bill to cut funding to the Habitat Montana Program that benefits conservation, increasing resource extraction on public land, and defending the federal government shutdown in 2013 that temporarily closed Glacier and Yellowstone national parks. Naturally, Zinke marched into the beginning of this legislation session and voted for a bill to devalue public land and make transfer to states or private entities easier.
Zinke's first day as secretary showed him riding a horse to work; you know, like Roosevelt would have done. Zinke held the reins tight in anticipation of a runaway, wore a black cowboy hat with a Texas cattleman crease, sitting in a cosmopolitan English saddle that hinted to wealthy New England riders who compete in hunter-jumper shows. After all, most of Zinke's dark campaign money came from the East. The image fell short of the mark, since the majority of cowboys don’t ride English saddles. Once inside the new office, he reversed a ban on lead ammunition on national wildlife refuges, furthering the National Rifle Association’s wishes, not Roosevelt conservation.
Zinke has been busy filling the department with former Monsanto executives that harken to his days of voting to repeal portions of the Country of Origin Labeling Act, touring parks in his home state and vowing to take on sexual harassment and hostile work environments that put the Park Service in the public spotlight last year, pushing for resource extraction on public land, changing the Bureau of Land Management website's cover photograph from two children backpacking to a hunk of coal, and receiving checks for $78,000 donated from the president's salary to take care of the park maintenance backlog. Trump's proposed budget will cut the Department of Interior by $1.5 billion, all while Zinke plays cheerleader in his battle to take on the $12.5 billion park maintenance backlog.
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Zinke said, "Our nation can't run on pixie dust and hope." But it seems his department will be running on exactly that as people subsidize corporations to remove resources from public lands, manipulating markets, garnering a jelly-belly profit and leaving taxpayers to clean up the mess and pay for the resultant adverse public health and squandered economy.
"I'm proud of my president. As a commander in chief, I'll follow him anywhere," drawled Zinke at Trump's Energy Independence Executive Order signing.
Roosevelt said, “To announce that there must be no criticism of the president, or that we are to stand by the president, right or wrong, is not only unpatriotic and servile, but is morally treasonable to the American public.”
I don't see much resemblance between Zinke and Roosevelt, and therefore, we can conclude that American conservation has lost, yet again.