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Secretary of Interior Ryan Zinke Attacks America’s Wilderness

The Wilderness Act of 1964 promises that our government will protect and preserve Wilderness “for the permanent good of the whole people.” Yet, in just the first year of the Trump Administration, America’s Wilderness, public lands, and wildlife legacy have been under constant attack.

Every day seems to bring plans to undermine the Wilderness Act and America’s 110 million-acre National Wilderness Preservation System, more rollbacks of our bedrock environmental laws, or new proposals to grease the skids for resource extraction on public lands.

One person who’s right in the middle of these schemes is President Trump’s Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, who has seemingly made it his mission to destroy the promise of the Wilderness Act.

As Interior Secretary, Zinke is in charge of some of the most important federal agencies that administer America’s Wilderness, including the National Park Service, the Bureau of Land Management, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

If you don’t think Secretary Zinke has a huge impact on America’s Wilderness legacy, consider the fact that over 72 million acres of Wilderness is under his purview. That’s a whopping 66 percent of the entire acreage within our National Wilderness Preservation System!

Just look at this list of some of Secretary Zinke’s most anti-Wilderness actions:

• Last December, Zinke released a new legal opinion designed to fast-track two mining leases in northern Minnesota so a company owned by a Chilean billionaire can construct a copper and nickel mine on the doorstep of the Boundary Waters Wilderness. The Chilean billionaire also happens to be renting a mansion to President Trump’s daughter, Ivanka.

• During the recent government shutdown, Secretary Zinke signed a secret deal to bulldoze a road through the Izembek Wilderness and Izembek National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska. Zinke’s secret deal would destroy wildlife habitat and set a terrible precedent for America’s Wilderness system.

• Secretary Zinke has remained silent as Congress tries to pass a number of bills to amend, weaken or undermine the Wilderness Act, including a bill to open all Wilderness areas to mountain bikes and other wheeled contraptions; legislation that would threaten all Wilderness areas within 100 miles of the U.S. border with Canada and Mexico; and an NRA-backed ‘Sportsmen’s Act’ that would gut the Wilderness Act and its promise of preserving areas “where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man.”

• With Zinke’s full support, the Trump administration reversed common-sense regulations put in place by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to prevent barbaric hunting practices in National Wildlife Refuges in Alaska, which include 20 million acres of Wilderness. Now, under Zinke’s leadership, grossly unethical practices — like shooting denning wolves, killing hibernating bears and cubs, and catching and killing bears with traps — could return. If doing this in our national wildlife refuges in Alaska isn’t bad enough, Zinke has begun a review to open some of the national park units in Alaska to the same disgusting practices.

• While Secretary Zinke has proposed more than doubling the fee your family must pay to visit one of our iconic National Parks like Glacier, Yellowstone, and Grand Canyon, Zinke’s Bureau of Land Management just slashed the fees private ranchers pay to graze livestock on our Wildernesses and public lands. Incredibly, welfare ranchers graze a cow and her calf for a mere $1.41 a month, a price that doesn’t begin to pay for cost to the government to administer the program, let alone the ecological damage done by livestock operations!

This is but a partial list that doesn’t include the host of issues that indirectly, but importantly, bear on our most iconic landscapes. Secretary Zinke supported opening the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge — America’s Serengeti — to massive oil and gas development, and he gutted the Bears Ears and Grand Staircase–Escalante National Monuments by over two million acres. And he’s threatening to waive environmental and wildlife protections in many more.

Far from being a conservationist like Teddy Roosevelt, as he likes to pretend in public, Ryan Zinke is actually more modeling President Reagan’s notorious Secretary of Interior, James Watt, or Warren Harding’s Interior Secretary, Albert Hall, of the Teapot Dome scandal. The public needs to thwart Zinke’s continued attacks on our wilderness heritage or that priceless heritage may be irreparably lost. America’s Wilderness deserves far better than Ryan Zinke.

TAKE ACTION! Please tell Secretary Zinke that you expect him to stand up for America’s Wilderness, public lands, and wildlife legacy, and if he’s not up for that task, he should resign: https://wildernesswatch.salsalabs.org/secretaryryanzinke/index.html

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Kevin Proescholdt is the conservation director for Wilderness Watch, a national wilderness conservation organization, www.wildernesswatch.org

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