Speculation was running rife and all over the place on Wednesday as the word came that President-elect Donald S. Trump, Alaska’s biggest landowner, had finally named a property manager.
Montana Rep. Ryan Zinke, a former Navy SEAL, was tapped to lead the Department of the Interior which oversees 220 million acres of land in Alaska. That’s about 60 percent of the state.
Zinke’s views on Alaska are little known, but former Alaskan Mac Minard described Zinke as a devoted outdoorsman and painted a portrait of a guy who sounded very Alaskan in many ways: loves to hunt and fish, generally dislikes regulations, favors public lands but wants reasonable access, strongly supports the Second Amendment, and recognizes the value of resource-related jobs.
Now the director of the Montana Outfitters and Guides Association, Minard is a University of Alaska Fairbanks alum who had a previous career in the 49th state with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. For more than two decades, he was a highly respected fisheries biologist and has continued to do some Alaska fisheries consulting since moving to the lower 48.
Minard said the Montana Outfitters had a great relationship with Zinke, who Minard called a straight shooter.
Fears all around
Zinke’s support for public lands has, however, irked some on the far right, and his recognition of the national need for hydrocarbons to power industry, heat homes and fuel motor vehicles has irritated some on the left.
“Trump Interior Nominee Ryan Zink Raises Serious Concerns” the Wilderness Society headlined on its web page. The environmental group is an active presence in Alaska which has more acreage protected in the National Wilderness Preservation System than all of the other states combined.
“We have serious concerns about the nomination of Congressman Zinke, whose repeated support for logging, drilling and mining on cherished public lands is out of step with most Americans,” Society director Jamie Williams said in a prepared statement.
“While he has steered clear of efforts to sell off public lands and supported the Land and Water Conservation Fund, far more often Rep. Zinke has advanced policies that favor special interests. His overall record and the backdrop of cabinet nominations with close ties to the fossil fuel industry cause us grave concern. Rep. Zinke has refused to acknowledge that climate change is caused by fossil fuel emissions….”
Zinke’s support for fossils fuels drew support in Alaska while his opposition to the sell-off of public lands drew a red flag.
“Zinke is on record opposing the transfer of federal land to the states,” wrote Suzanne Downing at MustReadAlsaka.com “That’s a position that President-elect Donald Trump also shares, something that raised concerns during his campaign for president.
“In June, Zinke voted against a bill offered by Alaska Congressman Don Young. HR 3650, would have permitted up to two millions of acres of the 17-million acre Tongass National Fores land to be transferred to state ownership.”
A firm stand
Zinke didn’t stop there, however. He walked out on the Republican convention because he didn’t approve of a party platform suggesting the transfer of federal lands to the states.
Still, his support for fossil fuel development drew a strong favorable response from Alaska business interests worried about the ever falling flow of oil in the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System. Oil is vital to the Alaska economy, and there are indications of the discovery of a couple, new major oil fields on the North Slope.
Cooperation from the Bureau of Land Management – an Interior agency – could be useful in helping bring those fields into production.
Noting Trump’s earlier appointment of former Texas Gov. Rick Perry as head of the Department of Energy, AK Headlamp.com, envisioned “a new commitment to responsible resource development that was absent from the Obama administration.”
The Headlamp is an organ of the Alaska Support Industry Alliance, which bills itself as a promoter of “responsible exploration, development and production of oil, gas and mineral resources.”
Early indications from a variety of sources arethat Zinke appears to slot into a political position somewhere between the Alliance and The Wilderness Society. And he could be expected to develop a strong relationship with Sen. Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska, a Marine who served some duty with the Alaska-based reserve unit E Co., 4th Reconnaissance Battalion.
Marine Recon isn’t quite the Navy Seals, but there aren’t many U.S. Senators who’ve gone on night swims in Resurrection Bay during Alaska war games.
Whatever anyone thinks about an Interior nominee going in, however, it is a good idea to keep in mind the late Walter J. Hickel, twice the governor of Alaska.
Wally to almost everyone in the 49th state, Hickel left his first term as governor in 1968 to take the Interior post despite strident opposition from environmental groups nationwide.
Hickel came under intense fire for suggesting environmental restrictions on industry had to be weighed against economic costs and saying he was opposed to “conservation for conservation’s sake.”
Echoing the theme of many in the legion of those now warning of the dangers of human-fueled climate-change, Stanford University professor Paul R. Ehrlich, famous as the author of “The Population Bomb,” at the time told the Stanford Daily that “my colleagues and I feel that the population-environment crisis is already so serious that the very existence of mankind is in jeopardy. At this juncture we need an administration which is dedicated to ameliorating the crisis, not to worsening it in the name of short-term economic advances.”
Hickel was confirmed over such objections only to go on to become a darling of environmentalists.
“For the concerned observer, the Washington career of former Secretary of the Interior Walter J. Hickel began and ended in exasperating incredulity. In 1969 one asked how such a man drawn from the ranks of the exploiters thought fit to guard the nation’s resources. Two years later one asked more anxiously still how a man with proven devotion and relative effectiveness as the nation’s steward could have been fired by an administration that nominated environment as the issue of the decade,” wrote Gordon Harrison in the book review section of The Chicago Tribune in 1971.
Hickel had just published a book called “Who Owns America,” which remains worth a read. It documents the image transformation Hickel lived as he tried to clean up oil-industry drilling practices in the wake of the Santa Barbara oil spill, fought to protect endangered whales, moved to preserve the Everglades and more.
No Alaskan this time
Post-election, there were persistent rumors that Trump was considering former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, an early Trump supporter, for the Interior post, but she fell out of favor along with others who were mentioned, most notably investment manager Bob Gillam and former Alaska Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell.
The richest man in Alaska, according to the Alaska Dispatch News, the 70-year-old Gillam was a classmate of Trump’s at Wharton making “a serious play” for the Interior job, the newspaper said. But he never appeared to gain much traction on the national stage.
Treadwell was among the first mainstream Alaskan Republicans to join “Trump Alaska 2016.” His chances of joining the Trump administration, however, probably weren’t helped by his close personal association with Alaska Dispatch publisher Alice Rogoff, a big fan of Hillary Clinton and President Barack Obama. She had the president to dinner at her Campbell Lake home last fall while he was in the state his global-warming-warning tour of Alaska.