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Montanans deserve the real truth about Zinke

by Dave Mihalic
| January 1, 2022 12:00 AM

Everyone has experienced the neighborhood barking dog. You know – the poor pup, chained outside, that just barks, barks, barks. At first you may be concerned, then perhaps just irritated. At some point, you realize you’ve stopped paying attention and don’t even hear it anymore.

That’s what’s going on with the Democratic candidates vying for Montana’s new Congressional district. They know they will face Ryan Zinke and they’re afraid. We’ve sent him to Congress twice before and they know if we send him again, he’ll hit the ground running.

So, they bark and bark, and bring up or make up illegitimate allegations of wrong-doing and half-truths from his time as Interior secretary. But they know each of those charges was thoroughly investigated and all were found to be baseless.

A recent op-ed said “Montanans Deserve the Truth” about Ryan Zinke. But, instead of the truth, it was the barking dog again, with false allegations, misrepresentation of fact, and outright fabrications. And, to what purpose? Why, to fool us and try to “cancel” Zinke as a candidate, simply because he answered the call to serve in Donald Trump’s Cabinet.

The truth is that Ryan Zinke was one of the most successful Interior secretaries in recent memory. Having grown up hiking and camping in Glacier, he knew – first-hand – public land issues from fire management and endangered species to aging visitor facilities and needed infrastructure.

You’ll hear the other side say he “opened up” public lands to oil and gas development. Twisted words to make you think the lands were somehow withdrawn from public access, or that the land was in parks or recreation areas. In reality, his efforts were to restore rural prosperity and give the public access their own lands. His efforts led to the passage of the Great American Outdoors Act, rebuilding National Parks infrastructure, protecting the Paradise Valley from mining and making the U.S. energy independent for the first time in a century.

The public lands “opened up” to the public were the lands closed to public access for hunters, anglers and recreationists wanting to enjoy Montana’s greatest treasure: our great outdoors. Zinke opened up millions of acres of wildlife refuge land for hunting and fishing. He opened up thousands of miles of trails for hikers and bikers.

When Glacier’s Sperry Chalet burned down, he was a force of nature to get it stabilized and rebuilt. We Montanans support multiple uses of our public lands and we believe that they should benefit everyone – not just a few coastal elites.

As Interior secretary, it was Ryan Zinke who knew the national parks had a $12+ billion back-log of maintenance and it was Ryan who decided to do something about it.

He combined similar NPS needs with those of the Fish and Wildlife Service, the Bureau of Land Management and other Interior agencies and took the solution to President Trump. Ryan’s plan used unallocated Federal energy revenue (from oil, gas, wind, solar, coal, etc) to reinvest in conservation and rebuilding of trails, campgrounds, roads and other infrastructure.

President Trump agreed and took it to Congress where it became the Great American Outdoors Act – the most significant environmental legislation since the Wilderness Act.

The Democrats can’t win if they tell the truth, and they know it so they try to distract: “Quick! Look over there!” and bark, bark, bark.

The Democrats want us to think that the way to serve the tribes is to cut off grazing on millions of acres of public land surrounding sacred sites. All the while, the real issues facing Indian Country like mental health, the opioid and meth crisis and poverty take a back seat.

Ryan Zinke already has a head start ensuring the interests of Indian Country are represented. He’s visited and spoken with tribal officials about the problems they’re facing and will be a strong advocate for them when he is in Congress.

Montana doesn’t need more Washington, DC, ways or mandates, much less another leftist rubber-stamp in a Democratic Congress. What Washington needs is someone to remind them of our Montana values and Ryan Zinke is just the man to do it.

Don’t listen to the barking, and don’t be fooled. We sent Ryan to Congress twice before, and will again, because he has proven he fights – and wins - for Montana.

Dave Mihalic is a former senior executive with more than four decades of experience in the Department of the Interior and advising businesses, non-government agencies, and international bodies on national parks, world heritage sites, public lands, and global conservation issues. He lives in Missoula.