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Donald Trump's Interior pick slammed sale of federal lands as 'extreme'

Filed Under: Environment | National | Politics
More on: burns paiute, cathy mcmorris rodgers, doi, donald trump, oregon, republicans, rob bishop, ryan zinke, treaties
     
   

Rep. Ryan Zinke (R-Montana) has been nominated as Secretary of the Interior by Republican president-elect Donald Trump. Photo by Gage Skidmore

Opposition to the sale of public lands appears to have played a major role in the selection of Rep. Ryan Zinke (R-Montana) to lead the Interior Department.

Zinke has repeatedly spoken out against the sale or transfer of federal lands, citing Montana's reliance on public areas for hunting, fishing and other activities. He also has voted against legislation to sell off public lands.

"The federal government needs to do a much better job of managing our resources, but the sale or transfer of our land is an extreme proposal and I won’t tolerate it," Zinke, who just wrapped up his first term in Congress, said in June after he voted against one such measure.

Zinke's stance squares with that of Republican president-elect Donald Trump. In an interview with Outdoor Life earlier this year, he said he was worried about efforts to sell or transfer public lands to state governments.

"I don’t like the idea because I want to keep the lands great, and you don’t know what the state is going to do. I mean, are they going to sell if they get into a little bit of trouble?" Trump told editor Anthony Licata in January.

Sitting in on that interview was the incoming president's son, Donald Trump Jr., who mentioned his love of hunting during a campaign stop on the Navajo Nation last month. According to news reports, he influenced his father to pick Zinke over Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Washington) because she has supported selling off public lands in the past.

But McMorris Rodgers isn't the only one who embraces the idea. Top Republicans -- including the sponsor of the bill that Zinke opposed in June -- believe states can do a better job at managing lands than the federal government. Even the 2016 Republican Party platform weighs in on the issue.

"It’s not that the federal government is malicious, but when they own one third of America, it is just too much to effectively manage from Washington," Rep. Rob Bishop (R-Utah), the chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, said in July when he introduced a controversial public lands bill that tribes and environmental groups fought to defeat.

Those sentiments have driven numerous proposals to sell or transfer public lands to states. But Indian Country has benefited too: this year alone, Congress passed at least three bills to transfer federal lands to tribes in California.

Those situations typically involve returning small parcels of aboriginal territory to tribes in recognition of their status as the original owners. States, on the other hand, often lay claim to lands that were originally set aside for tribes through treaties or other means.

And some groups often ignore the tribal aspect in their push to claim public lands. The 41-day armed standoff in Oregon was largely based on the premise that the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge should be returned to non-Indians when in fact it was originally set aside for the Burns Paiute Tribe.

Read More on the Story:
Trump’s choice to head Interior opposes GOP’s effort to sell public lands (The Salt Lake Tribune 12/14)
Donald Trump Jr. Played a Key Role in Interior Pick (The Wall Street Journal 12/15)
McConnell Eyed Ryan Zinke for a Senate Seat. Donald Trump Had Other Ideas. (The New York Times 12/16)
Trump Still Hasn’t Named a Democrat to His Cabinet (The New York Times 12/16)
Outsiders Selected by Trump Aim to Unnerve Washington (The New York Times 12/17)

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