Closing Range

Zinke’s Fickle Forest Frenemies

The irony is, just weeks ago, these same entities buried Zinke in political rose petals

Lone Montana Republican Congressman Ryan Zinke finds himself under attack from environmental groups such as the Wilderness Society, Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, Montana Wilderness Association, and the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. Don’t be surprised.

The irony is, just weeks ago, these same entities buried Zinke in political rose petals. Zinke, who in his own words “bucks party leadership” on environmental issues, joined suburban Seattle’s Congressman Dave Reichert as the only Western Republicans supporting perpetuation of the deeply flawed Land and Water Conservation Fund. As now written, LWCF has devolved into an insider’s slush fund used mostly to enable the federal government to buy more land it can’t properly manage – no wonder Greens love LWCF.

Greens are now bashing Zinke for supporting H.R. 2316, the Self Sufficient Community Lands Act, sponsored by Raul Labrador (R-Idaho). The purpose of the bill is “to generate dependable economic activity” within counties hosting national forest lands. Wow – it’s been decades since anyone has associated “dependable economic activity” with National Forests.

Labrador’s bill would allow a pilot program for establishment of “community forest demonstration areas” (CFDA) within one year of becoming law. Each CFDA would “include at least 200,000 acres” or up to 900,000 acres on two national forests, the Tongass and Chugach in Alaska. However, only 4 million acres out of 192 million could become CFDAs, a little more than 2 percent of total National Forests – H.R. 2316 intends a test run, to see if the status quo could be improved upon.

In states where the governor may (or may not) choose to participate, CFDAs would be selected, and then overseen, by an advisory committee appointed by each governor.

Eligible lands properly exclude already-protected wilderness units and national monuments. Just like on NFS land, exporting raw logs is prohibited – a smart provision if the emphasis is on local “dependable economic activity.” An appropriate amount of revenues would be kept back for operations and management, with county or local governments again enjoying harvest royalties in accordance with existing federal Secure Schools law.

As for environmental protection, the CFDAs must be managed in accordance with state-level Best Management Practices or forest practices laws governing state and private lands. Importantly, and most upsetting to Greens, implementation of CFDAs would “not be considered federal action” and therefore would not trigger the “nexus” that normally hogties matters in federal court.

As expected, the Montana Wilderness Association claimed doing so would “undermine bedrock environmental laws,” but federal laws such as the Federal Water Pollution Control Act, Clean Air Act and Endangered Species Act, as now in effect on state and private forests, would nonetheless still govern.

Truth is, the only thing “undermined” would be the unjust political power national environmental groups so enjoy. Litigation would be a state, not federal matter, and management of local forests would be, imagine this – primarily local. Terrible!

Also deceptively, BHA’s writer team declared Labrador’s bill would allow “public-lands exploitation that cuts out hunters, anglers and other outdoor recreationists,” with MWA’s guy claiming the future “loss of clean water, wildlife habitat, and recreational use of public lands that are owned by all Americans.”

Again, not true. The actual bill language reads – “nothing in this section shall affect public use and recreation within” CFDA parcels, and furthermore, nothing in the act “shall be construed to limit access [in a CFDA] for hunting, fishing, and other related purposes,” including recognized Indian treaty rights.

So Zinke made the right call, and Greens called him on the carpet. I find all this praise and punishment rather Pavlovian, but understandable. Greens would like nothing better than to have their own trained seal in Congress, voting their way, on their cue.

Further, Zinke has every right to buck the party establishment. But by making establishment environmentalists happy, Zinke isn’t just bucking his party. Critically, Zinke is bucking many Montanans who did something important for him: They elected him to Congress.

Even if Congressman Zinke votes to delight his fickle forest frenemies every time, they’ll never, ever vote for him. They’re after a Congresscritter that’s already trained.