U.S. Congressman Ryan Zinke (R-Mont.), who is President-elect Donald Trump’s nominee to serve as Secretary of the Interior, was among the 233 members of the House of Representatives to vote in favor of a rules change that would make the transfer of federal lands easier. Zinke’s vote was troubling to many in the outdoors industry, as he has in the past been vocal in opposition to public lands transfer. In fact, Zinke resigned his post on the GOP platform committee at last summer’s Republican National Convention to protest the party’s support of selling off public lands.
Zinke was indeed “applauded” as Trump’s Interior choice by the American Fly Fishing Trade Association and the Outdoor Industry Association, among other organizations. In an online opinion editorial, Outside magazine said Zinke “may be the best environmental hope we have in this administration.”
Make no mistake, the potential transfer of public lands is a terrible idea that would have a potentially devastating impact on fishing, hunting, and outdoor recreation. It could potentially close public access to millions of acres, and miles of rivers and streams. It isn’t a new concept by any means, and many of us have been vested in the fight against public land transfer for years. In an era when fly fishing is constantly engaged in access battles, this issue is arguably the most threatening access issue of all.
This industry needs to speak up now. Those who supported and still support Zinke must make clear that we are watching, and we value public lands as a foundation for our businesses.
For the record, Zinke’s spokeswoman, Heather Swift, said that Zinke’s overall position on public lands has not changed.
We hope and trust that’s the case. But if Zinke is going to proclaim himself a “Roosevelt conservationist,” he should act–and vote–like one. Indeed, the sausage-making apparatus of American government is nuanced and difficult to understand. This one vote does not, and should not, redefine Zinke’s positions relative to the outdoors industry.
But it’s right to be concerned, and it’s right to be more skeptical. And until Zinke takes tangible actions as Interior Secretary that clearly demonstrate that he values the resources that make fly-fishing possible–and the access to those resources Americans value as a birthright–it’s probably also a good idea for our little industry to hold off on the applause.
-The editors of Angling Trade