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By Casey Wooten
Farm groups and ranchers are hoping that President-elect Donald Trump’s pick for interior secretary would loosen environmental and grazing restrictions on federal lands.
Trump announced Dec. 15 that he plans to nominate freshman Rep. Ryan Zinke (R-Mont.) to head the Department of the Interior (see related story in this issue). Zinke would oversee about 600 million acres of federal lands. Livestock grazing is permitted on about 250 million of those acres for about 22,000 permit holders.
Agriculture and farming groups’ initial reaction to the nomination was positive, with many hoping that Zinke would carry forward Trump’s campaign promise to broadly roll back federal regulation.
“We have a great relationship with Congressman Zinke and his office,” Ethan Lane, executive director of the Public Lands Council, which represents cattle and sheep producers, told Bloomberg BNA. “He’s always been very supportive of agriculture and supportive of livestock grazing in the West.”
Others echoed that sentiment.
“Congressman Zinke has a challenge before him,” Zippy Duvall, president and CEO of the American Farm Bureau Federation, said in a statement. “Farmers and ranchers have suffered abuse at the hands of the Interior Department. Arbitrary limits on grazing have harmed animal agriculture.”
In a statement announcing the nomination, Trump said Zinke would work to fight federal regulations.
“America is the most beautiful country in the world, and he is going to help keep it that way with smart management of our federal lands,” Trump said. “At the same time, my administration’s goal is to repeal bad regulations and use our natural resources to create jobs and wealth for the American people, and Ryan will explore every possibility for how we can safely and responsibly do that.”
Zinke’s home state of Montana has a huge agriculture industry, with more than 27,500 farm operations and 2.6 million head of cattle, all in a state of just over 1 million people.
A former Navy SEAL and state lawmaker before being elected to Montana’s sole congressional seat in 2014, Zinke has backed energy development on public lands and opposed several endangered species protections.
Zinke sided with ranchers when in 2015 the Bureau of Land Management—a division of Interior—released plans to federally manage sage grouse populations in western states, an issue that has divided the BLM and ranchers, who say the rules impede their cattle from grazing.
Those positions have given him a meager 3 percent lifetime rating on the League of Conservation Voters scorecard, according to the group’s website.
But he’s also won the praise of some conservation groups by opposing the sale of public lands and the transfer of federal lands to states.
“Based on conversations I’ve had with Rep. Zinke on a number of issues, I am confident President Elect Trump made an inspired choice,” said Rob Sisson, president of ConservAmerica, a Republican-affiliated conservation group, in a statement provided by the Trump transition team.
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