Zinke.. Why Such a Lightning Rod?: Or, Sometimes He’s Not Quite Wrong I.

Former Interior Secretary Zinke

I think former Interior Secretary Zinke was definitely a lightning rod for many folks. We don’t know why, nor if the new Secretary be equally controversial. Looking back, we can ask questions like “why him? and why not Secretary Perdue?”. Part of it may well be his personality (which I don’t actually know), but plenty of politicians can be irritating.  My biases and personal experience would tend to be along the lines of “Congressfolk aren’t necessarily good at governing, more at playing partisan football.”

So let’s talk about four things he’s said that people disagree with (two in this post):

  1. Fires and Climate

From a story in The Hill here: “It doesn’t matter whether you believe or don’t believe in climate change. What is important is we manage our forests,” Zinke told reporters while visiting the Whisteytown National Recreation Area on Sunday. “This is not a debate about climate change. There’s no doubt the [fire] season is getting longer, the temperatures are getting hotter.” (I think it’s Whiskeytown, but the Hill spelled it that way).

I was mildly surprised when I read this article because the top quote was “I’ve heard the climate change argument back and forth. This has nothing to do with climate change. This has to do with active forest management,” Zinke told Sacramento station KCRA.

(my italics). So in two sentences he said 1) fire season is getting longer and temps hotter so yes to climate change but 2)  framing this debate as being about climate change does not help people managing fires deal with them.

I agree with 2) . We can’t throw up our hands and say “let’s not do fuel treatments, we just need to stop putting carbon in the atmosphere”. Because we had fires before climate change, and we’ll have fires after climate change. Not only that, but as the IPCC says, it’s unlikely that we will be as successful as we would like in the short run. So we’re stuck with this problem either way. No matter how complicated pundits or academics try to make this, the records show that this is, was, and will be fire country.

So I would say, climate is part of the problem, but only part, and we honestly can’t say how big a part. What we do know is what we can do to help the wildfire problem (many things).

2. Role of Litigation

This is probably the least popular in many circles:

From CNN Politics here “lawsuit after lawsuit by, yes, the radical environmental groups that would rather burn down the entire forest than cut a single tree or thin the forest.” Remember, Zinke is from Montana, where in fact a high proportion of appeals and litigation occur. So I certainly can understand how he would get that impression (for some reason, it seems like passions run higher in Montana about the same issues that other western states deal with). According to some folks in California, not only litigation, appeals and objections, but also fear of litigation, appeals and objections have made some  FS folks less enthusiastic about doing fuel treatments or other vegetation management.  Litigation is indeed one element of not being able to do fuel treatments (in addition to lack of money and lack of trained people).

Here are more quotes from the same article,

“This is where America stands. It’s not time for finger-pointing. We know the problem: it’s been years of neglect, and in many cases, it’s been these radical environmentalists that want nature to take its course,” Zinke said in the Sunday interview. “We have dead and dying timber. We can manage it using best science, best practices. But to let this devastation go on year after year after year is unacceptable.”

Interestingly, Perdue is also quoted:

His colleague in federal land management, Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, spoke instead of misguided efforts of “well-meaning environmentalists.” “If not doing anything to the forests kept them pristine, I’d be all for that. That’s the problem,” Perdue said on the call with reporters. “That’s been the theory from well-meaning environmentalists over the years, is that a forest that you did nothing to was pristine. We know that’s not to be the case.”
Zinke went on Breitbart, which conceivably he didn’t have to, and has more colorful/inflammatory language. Personality or history as Congressperson?  And perhaps oddly, the CNN story ended with a quote from Chad Hanson saying that the “science shows” that fuel treatments that involve logging don’t work. As we’ve seen, the contrary scientific evidence is vast (not to speak of practitioner evidence). The CNN article also notes that Hanson is also a Director of the Sierra Club, but it looks like this is outdated information (see here).

6 thoughts on “Zinke.. Why Such a Lightning Rod?: Or, Sometimes He’s Not Quite Wrong I.”

  1. Once again, thinning projects in Sierra Nevada National Forests are not really impacted by litigation.

    However, insect and fire salvage projects always bring out the extremists and their untrue accusations. Luckily, the serial litigators have been losing their court cases, these days, and their extremist claims have not been a part of the court proceedings, due to the lack of actual actionable evidence. Claims of clearcuts fill the newspapers but, those claims aren’t being presented in court. I’ve seen multiples incidences of pictures of private logging being attributed to Forest Service salvage projects. There is a very good reason why these phony pictures aren’t being presented in court, even though (if true) they would probably win the court case.

    I do really think that government lawyers should bring up in court what plaintiffs display in newspapers, websites and literature regarding those salvage projects. Judges need to know that stuff.

  2. Larry – Federal agency decisions must be reviewed by a court based on the administrative record prepared prior to the decision. There’s no “impugning the witness.” That does mean they have to make the factual scientific case that what they are proposing and their analysis of its effects are not arbitrary.

    Here’s an opinion on “why Zinke?” Basically who he has hired and how he has embodied “energy dominance” in places where the people don’t want it. https://missoulian.com/opinion/columnists/zinke-leaves-public-lands-vulnerable-to-transfer-seizure-and-exploitation/article_01e33dbe-2fc1-59e7-b5e0-87b28979383f.html

    Sharon – Perdue was a governor (and a veterinarian instead of a veteran) so you may have a point, but maybe it’s also that Zinke just wants to be like Trump – an in-your-face serve-the-base politician.

    • If the plaintiff is willing to lie to their donors, are they willing to lie to the court, too? In these cases, maybe they aren’t willing to lie to the court. However, facts do belong in court, and the lies of the plaintiffs are a part of the public record. To me, the characters of the players are an important part of the Judges’ decisions.

  3. I’m going to take a wild stab in the dark here….

    Former Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke was/is such a lightening rod because people are judging him based on his…(wait for it)…words and actions.

  4. I liked that Zinke opened up or expanded hunting opportunity at 30 more Wildlife Refuges, he understood hunting to be one of the most precise tools for managing wildlife. In fairness former secretaries Jewel and Salazar were both pretty good in those regards too.

    Certainly the people of Southern Utah were appreciative of his reduction in the size of the monuments there. I’d of liked it if he’d established hunting as the primary wildlife management tool in National Parks (as Starker Leopold suggested in his original report). Some monuments that were established to exclude hunting (Dinosaur) could have used a more modern perspective.

    To the question of why he disturbed enviros, I’d say tribalism as much as anything. Ex military and still had that persona, cowboy hat, pro carbon extraction, he embodied the perfect foil. Oh well, he’s out of here now. I still believe he was probably the best choice for Sec Int given all the options. I don’t believe Trump knows, or is interested in anything involving nature. It’s entirely possible the next Sec of Int will embody more of an urban sensibility.

  5. Here’s a little more on the Zinke’s “stock the swamp” legacy: https://www.eenews.net/stories/1060111073

    “The Texas Public Policy Foundation has seen at least eight alumni land in the White House, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and Department of the Interior. The officials overwhelmingly reject climate science, promote more fossil fuel consumption and have run campaigns downplaying the value of renewable energy subsidies.”


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