Ryan Zinke: Montana’s first presidential cabinet member

It’s no secret that students of MSU are predominantly here for Bozeman’s unparalleled access to the outdoors. This illustrates the importance of the role of the Secretary of the Interior to MSU. The position is marked by its responsibility for ensuring the integrity of federal lands and natural resources that are so important to states like Montana. Amidst the eventful time before President Trump’s inauguration, Trump nominated Congressman Ryan Zinke, currently Montana’s singular House representative, to be the next Secretary of the Interior. Zinke, who would be the first Montana resident to serve as a cabinet officer, accumulated the experience necessary for the nomination from a variety of places, which shaped how he will likely approach the position.

Ryan Zinke was born in Bozeman, Montana in 1961, giving us even more of a local connection to him. Zinke graduated from the University of Oregon and entered the Navy, becoming a Navy SEAL after passing their rigorous training course. He had a 22 year career, during which he reached the rank of commander and received a variety of medals. Zinke then returned to Montana to form the Continental Divide Internationals, a property management and business development consulting company.

Zinke’s political career began in the Montana Senate, representing his home area of Whitefish for two years. Zinke subsequently began upgrading the scale of his political involvement, running for lieutenant governor in 2012 and helping presidential candidate Mitt Romney through a fundraising organization. This culminated with Zinke running to fill the vacant seat of Steve Daines, the previous Congressional Representative for Montana. Zinke won the primary with 56 percent of the vote, allowing him to take his most influential role up to this point.

During Zinke’s two year term as congressman, he was able to shape and lend credence to views that would be especially relevant to the position of Secretary of the Interior. Zinke demonstrated a value for economic development, consistently prioritizing resource extraction over pure conservation. This resulted in a 3 percent rating from the League of Conservation Voters, signifying how Zinke’s views diverged from those of pure conservationists. During that time Zinke held various views on climate change; most recently, however, acknowledging evidence of the event.

One of Zinke’s most relevant stances during his congressional experience regards the transfer of federal lands to states, a policy which he strongly opposes. Zinke has stated he favored better management of federal lands over selling them. Zinke also served on the Congressional Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources, which is responsible for natural resources and their development, among other things.

Zinke was reelected to Congress in November. However, a combination of experience and well-managed interviews helped secure a position in the cabinet. Given that federal lands are something in which Zinke has shown interest, in combination with the Republican Party’s desires, public lands will be an area of prime focus during Zinke’s tenure. Zinke has indicated a willingness to consider transferring some lands, so a compromise between the two views is probable. For Montana, the likely result of this policy is minimal. Should land be turned over to the state, the pro-outdoors sentiment here will most likely leave public land policies unchanged. Montana may decide to develop some of the land, which would provide more jobs to graduates of MSU and other residents.

Those jobs would be available regardless of land ownership though, as Zinke has demonstrated an interest in developing resources on public lands, with potential harm to the land in mind but not the first concern. This policy would be an about-face from the Obama administration, which routinely banned development on areas of land and would often designate areas as nature preserves to further restrict resource exploration. Zinke will bring both a Montana-based affinity for the outdoors and a republican desire for increased American economic power to this debate.


Written by Jason Campbell