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Trump Interior Nominee Warns of Hunting, Fishing 'Elitism' by Restricting Public Lands

Image via Flicker/Claudia Deza

WASHINGTON – Rep. Ryan Zinke (R-Mont.), President-elect Trump’s nominee for secretary of the Interior, told senators he supports a “multiple use” approach to federal lands because a lack of access to certain areas has resulted in “elitism” in hunting and fishing.

Zinke said during his confirmation hearing on Tuesday that as a hunter and fisherman he understands some areas should be set aside for man to solely observe, but a generous amount of land should be open to outdoor sports and activities with the proper permits.

“It doesn’t have to be in conflict if you have recreation over mining. You just have to make sure that you understand what the consequences of each of those uses are. It’s our public land. What I’ve seen most recently is our access is being shut off – roads are being shut off,” Zinke said before the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources.

“I mean, we’re all getting older, and when you don’t have access to hunting areas, traditional fishing areas, then it makes it an elite sport,” he added. “I’m particularly concerned about the elitism of our traditional hunting, fishing, snowmobiling, making our public lands accessible in the spirit of multiple use.”

Zinke told the committee that President-elect Trump is “committed” to a jobs and infrastructure bill, “and I am going to need your help in making sure that bill includes shoring up our nation’s treasures.”

Later in the hearing, Zinke said the estimated $12.5 billion backlog of maintenance and repair at national parks should be included in any infrastructure package Congress sends to the president.

“I was over at the transition office and, oddly enough, I looked at the park in front of the Department of the Interior – the very park that everyone working in the Department of Interior goes by every day – the fountains don’t even work and they’re in need of repair,” he told senators. “And then you start asking, well, what about the rest of Washington, D.C.? Well, it turns out that very few fountains work. And then you look at the bridge, the Memorial Bridge. It turns out that needs about $150 million, so we better get on it.”

The National Park Service has estimated that necessary repairs to the bridge would cost about $250 million and the agency recommended a repair deadline of 2021.

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) asked Zinke if he agreed with Trump that climate change is a hoax.

“The climate is changing, that’s undisputable,” Zinke responded. “Man has had an influence; I think that’s undisputable, as well. So the climate is changing, man has influenced, I think where there’s debate is what that influence is and what can we do about it.”

Under questioning by Sanders, Zinke assured the committee he would listen to climate scientists at the Interior Department, which has about 70,000 employees.

“I can tell you I will become a lot more familiar with it, and it will be based on objective science. I don’t believe it’s a hoax,” he said.

Zinke, a former Navy SEAL in his second term in Congress, told Sanders he would take an “all of the above” energy approach to public lands that includes fossil fuel, wind and solar.

“I think that’s the better solution going forward,” he said.

Sanders thanked Zinke for his clear answer on whether or not he would support privatizing public lands.

“I want to be clear on this point. I am absolutely against transfer or sale of public land,” the nominee said. “I can’t be any more clear.”

Zinke told the committee members he would continue to support full funding of the Land and Water Conservation Fund.

“I think it’s done great work. This is probably why the president put a former Navy SEAL in place. I don’t yield to pressure,” he said. “My job is to advocate for Department of Interior – to make sure we have the right funds and be a voice in the room on great public policy.”

He pledged to focus on water-related infrastructure enhancements such as building better capture facilities.

“I do recognize that water, particularly in the west, is a big issue in every state in the west and we’ve got to get together to figure this out,” he said. “…We’re wasting a lot of water. There’s no question of that. So let’s make sure that every drop is precious and let’s make sure our water is clean. I think we can do that.”

Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) asked Zinke if he thinks climate change is a threat that warrants immediate action. Zinke repeated his earlier comments on climate change and said, “There is no model today that can predict tomorrow.”

“We need objective science to, one, figure a model out, and two, determine what are we going to do about it?” the congressman said.