If your social media feed is like mine, you’ve seen a flurry of both outrage and relief about the ouster of Ryan Zinke, who served just short of two years as President Trump’s secretary of the interior.
It is fair to ask: So what? Why should hunters and anglers care about the Secretary of the interior?
The Secretary of the interior is one of the lowest-profile of the presidential panel of personal advisors called the Cabinet. Secretary of defense? Obviously, our nation’s chief general. Secretary of state? America’s top diplomat. But what does the secretary of the interior do anyway?
Probably no other federal agency has more direct influence over hunting and fishing than the Department of the Interior. The current administration is no exception.
President Trump and Secretary Zinke advance a policy of “Energy Dominance.” They want the U.S. to produce enough oil and gas not just to compete in global energy markets with the likes of Saudi Arabia and Russia, but dominate those markets. To turn open the oil spigot, Zinke made it a priority to remove “barriers” to drilling. However, one person’s “production barrier” is another’s “habitat protection.”
This matters because the Interior Department has enormous reach over America’s public lands. For example:
The Department of the Interior was formed in 1849, when the United States was still growing from “sea to shining sea.” Interior Secretary is a complicated job and one fraught with political minefields.
The first two secretaries of the interior lasted less than one year in office. One of the most significant bribery cases in American history was the Teapot Dome Scandal of 1920. In that case, the secretary of the interior went to prison for taking bribes from oil companies wanting to drill under federal lands in Wyoming and California. It was the first time a presidential cabinet member went to prison for corruption.
Nearly 100 years later, oil and public lands are still a volatile mix at the Department of the Interior. Secretary Ryan Zinke leaves office under a cloud of accusations and investigations about some of his decisions and actions. Zinke left office calling those allegations baseless political attacks. History will be the judge.
Meanwhile, Zinke’s replacement will be named soon, to continue advancing the Energy Dominance doctrine. Hunters and anglers would be wise to keep a close eye on the Department of the Interior to make sure our interests are defended.