A conservation group with roots in Montana played a role in the nomination of Ryan Zinke as Secretary of the Interior.
Trump’s initial pick for the post was Cathy McMorris Rodgers, a Washington state congresswoman, and the highest ranking woman in the House.
But critics, including the Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, immediately raised concern about her impending appointment.
“Representative McMorris Rodgers’ track record in Congress should raise a red flag for Americans who care about the responsible management of our public lands and waters. President-elect Trump has pledged to keep public lands in public hands, and American sportsmen expect him to be true to his word,” Backcountry Hunters and Anglers wrote Dec. 9 on its website. “Representative McMorris Rodgers’ misguided positions on public lands, including co-sponsoring bills that would have transferred public lands to private ownership and undermined the Land and Water Conservation Fund, one of America’s most successful and popular conservation programs, are troubling to say the least.”
Backcountry Hunters and Anglers had an important ally in their corner — Donald Trump Jr.
“He’s a life member of ours,” Land Tawney, executive director of Backcountry Hunters and Anglers said last week.
Tawney said that while the group didn’t contact Trump Jr. directly, he certainly knew of their distaste for Rodgers.
“She was the heir apparent,” Tawney said. “It was time for us to step up and call and a spade and spade.”
According to a story in the New York Times, Donald Jr. then weighed in on Zinke as an appointment to Secretary of the Interior.
With Trump Jr.’s high opinion and a positive meeting with Trump Sr. on Dec. 14, Zinke walked out of Trump Tower in New York City the Secretary of Interior pick.
Zinke has opposed the sale of federal lands and strongly supports the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which uses taxes from off-shore drilling to fund public lands projects, from conservation easements, to land purchases to development of fishing access sites.
The Backcountry Hunters and Anglers opposes the sale of public lands and is a staunch supporter of the LWCF.
“It was one of those times where we punched above our weight,” Tawney noted.
The Republican party, most notably Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, wanted Zinke to run against Montana Democratic Sen. Jon Tester in 2018, according to the Times story. And Zinke and Tester were gearing up for that battle before the appointment. Zinke had said publicly he was considering running just a couple of weeks before he was appointed.
Backcountry Hunters and Anglers has seen an uptick in membership since the story in the Times, Tawney noted. It has about 7,500 members and a large following on Facebook, with more than 120,000 likes, reaching about 1 million people a week.
Tawney said it was the only sportsman group to speak out against McMorris when she was nominated. It’s views are moderate by most standards. It promotes fair chase of game, defends public access to public lands, and supports habitat conservation.
It has chapters across the West and upper Midwest and Northeast. But it has strong roots in Montana. Montana is one of its largest chapters — Tawney hails from the Bitterroot and noted Kalispell author Ben Long was one of its first board members and is just stepping down this year after a long tenure.