4 Reasons To Be Optimistic About the Zinke Nomination 

OIA's Government Affairs Manager Jessica Wahl is cautiously optimistic about the potential confirmation and is committed to working with the Interior Department nominee to move outdoor recreation policy forward, not backward.

By Jessica Wahl January 31, 2017

Lobbyists rarely slow down. It’s just part of the job description. On any given day, I’m walking—if not running, in heels—from one end of Capitol Hill to the other, meeting with staffers and congressional representatives to discuss, inform and influence recreation policy. The days are frenetic. The pace and gravity of my work is determined, in large measure, by the person who sits at the helm of the Interior Department. Never have I been reminded of that more than I was last week, when I found myself in the rare circumstance of standing inside one of the senate buildings. I waited in line outside the Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing room for more than an hour, hoping to gain access to Congressman Ryan Zinke’s confirmation hearing.  

I spent that hour reflecting on the significance of the role of Interior Secretary, not only for me professionally, but for our industry and our nation. I considered all of the other potential candidates President Trump could have nominated for the position. Other members of Congress, governors, mayors or oil and gas executives. I had been hopeful he’d tap Congressman Zinke, who has bucked party lines on land issues, prioritized the Land and Water Conservation Fund and given a voice to sportsmen and outdoor recreation issues.  

Tell Zinke About Your Outdoor Priorities

The proceedings and the outcome of the hearing will, in effect, determine my pace and the outdoor industry’s for the next four years. As senators, media with cameras and notepads and the congressman himself—flanked by his family and a full security detail—arrived, I was hopeful.   

I was also nervous. Nervous that the congressman would change his positions or betray some of his former land protection commitments during the confirmation hearing. Nervous about the millions of acres of public lands at stake, the trails and waterways— the infrastructure and backbone for our industry. Nervous about tribal sovereignty and the Bureau of Indian Education schools, about increased energy development near recreation assets, about water scarcity and wildfire severity and the backlog of trail and road maintenance on federal lands. Nervous about the work I had done under a great Interior Secretary, Ken Salazar, with so many other committed DOI employees. However, the four-hour hearing (with no breaks) only validated what OIA has known for years to be true:

1. Zinke is opposed to selling off our public lands, and he mentioned this issue several times. 

“I want to be clear on this point: I am absolutely against transfer or sale of public lands. Can’t be anymore clear.” 

2. Zinke believes the climate is changing. When questioned by Senator Bernie Sanders, Zinke agreed humans are having an impact and that he will defer to the scientists at DOI to help him develop policy.  

“The climate is changing, man is influencing it.” 

“Don’t believe it is a hoax. I believe we should be prudent.”  

3. Zinke understands the need to balance recreation and development. He mentioned recreation many times throughout the hearing and acknowledged how important it is to our shared American heritage. He discussed the need to address recreation access and the growing National Park Service backlog (his No. 2 priority for the department). 

“Recreation is going to be a bigger piece, and they aren’t making more land.” 

 “Need to motivate and incentivize outdoor recreation activities to show millennials the importance of great outdoors…need new ways to get younger millennials to parks and outdoors to teach them the value of our public lands.” 

“I’m specifically concerned with public access. I’m a hunter and fisherman.”  

4. Zinke understands our values. He compared himself to one of the founding fathers of our outdoor industry—Teddy Roosevelt. He even quoted John Muir and parts of the Wilderness Act. 

I fully recognize and appreciate that there are lands that deserve special recognition and are better managed under the John Muir model of wilderness, where man is more of an observer than an active participant.” 

 Read Zinke’s statement to the committee here. 

 OIA responded to Zinke’s hearing with an industry letter thanking the congressman for his testimony, response to questions at the hearing and urging that he continues work on issues important to the recreation community going forward.

I am still nervous, and won’t back down on those important issues like defending the Antiquities Act, but like Zinke said in the hearing: “I’ll work with anybody.” He went on to say, “I’ve never been red or blue; to me it has always been red, white and blue. What matters to me is that you are American and love your country. We have a very important mission in DOI ahead of us.” 

Get involved and tell Secretary Zinke about your outdoor priorities.