What Happened to the Teddy Roosevelt Conservationist?

I was hopeful that sending Zinke to Washington could do great things for Montana

By Jim McCormack

Did you ever hear the joke about the Army Ranger, the Recon Marine, a Navy SEAL, and a Delta Force member sitting around the campfire? If not, we’ll have to save that one for another day.

Instead, let’s say it’s an Army Ranger a Navy SEAL, and the United States’ Secretary of Interior sitting around a campfire in the Flathead National Forest.

That’s actually not that hard to imagine – since our current Secretary of Interior is Whitefish’s own Ryan Zinke, a former Navy SEAL. And I’m a former Army Ranger living in the Flathead – I served five years with 3rd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment.

So, if I was sitting around the campfire with Ryan Zinke, after some small talk, a few beers, handful of war stories, even though I hate talking politics, I’d probably say this: “What happened to Teddy Roosevelt conservation man?!”

I was hopeful that sending Zinke to Washington could do great things for Montana. As a congressman representing Montana, Secretary Zinke was an ardent supporter for a very important source of protection for Montana’s public outdoor spaces – the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), the principal source of federal dollars for expanding America’s parks, wildlife refuges and other heritage lands. It has done more to protect open space and develop outdoor recreation opportunities than any other federal program in American history.

Since its launch in 1964, the program has enjoyed wide bipartisan support through more than 10 administrations, protected more than 7.6 million acres of land and supported more than 41,000 parks, ball fields, and other recreation projects that meet state and local priorities. Over the years, Montana has benefited from $580 million from LWCF, creating better access to places like Tenderfoot Creek, the Flathead National Forest, and the Beartooth Mountains, as well as fishing access sites and trails across Montana.

And during his Senate confirmation hearing Secretary Zinke vigorously pledged support for permanently reauthorizing the Land and Water Conservation Fund. “You have my full commitment,” he said. Even as recent as September of last year he called the LWCF state grant program a resounding success across the nation.

But now, on Secretary Zinke’s watch, our President has proposed a budget for 2019 that virtually eliminates LWCF, reducing its funding level to an unprecedented and appallingly inadequate $8 million. That’s less than 1 percent of the $900 million authorized. Unfortunately to date, Secretary Zinke’s influential voice to protest the drastic cuts to the preservation of our great outdoors has not been heard.

So, if I was sitting around a campfire with Secretary Zinke in the Flathead National Forest, I’d use some colorful language to try to get him to go back to D.C. and fight like hell to restore LWCF funding. To be fair, Secretary Zinke presides over one of the largest departments in the Federal government and is no doubt subject to intense lobbying from all sides. I’m guessing that after spending some time out in the woods and out of the swamp in Washington, D.C. he might just rediscover that Teddy Roosevelt conservationist deep down inside him.

Secretary Zinke: If you do make it back home to the Flathead, give me a call. Let’s go camping. If nothing else, it will give me a chance to tell you that joke about what happened that time when the Army Ranger, the Recon Marine, a Navy SEAL, and a Delta Force member were sitting around the campfire.

Jim McCormack

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