A Whitefish-based National Park conservation advocate says an Interior Department headed by Congressman Ryan Zinke could be good for Montana and the West.
Michael Jamison heads the National Parks Conservation Association’s Crown of the Continent initiative. He says Zinke is a champion of America’s public lands, but also understands the balance between conservation and development:
"Having someone from this region is a real boon to us," Jamison says. "He understands our issues. He understands things like wilderness and oil and gas. He understands that there's a place for development, and there's also a place for protection."
For example, Jamison pointed to Zinke’s support of the Blackfeet Nation’s push to cancel oil and gas leases in the Badger-Two Medicine area, while at the same time supporting the tribe’s own oil and gas development on the reservation.
But Zinke’s voting record on other natural resource and public lands issues does not always align with what conservation advocates would hope for.
The League of Conservation Voters, a lobbying group that promotes a pro-environment agenda, gave Zinke a 3 percent rating in 2015 for votes on bills about energy; global warming; public health; public lands and wildlife conservation; and spending for environmental programs.
Jamison held that Zinke has continually voted to keep public lands public, and sees no reason why that will change if he takes President-elect Trump’s offer for the secretary position.
"I think the best indication of what someone may do in the future is to take a look at the past," Jamison says.