Ryan Zinke wants you to know that he's a real life Montanan. A horse-riding, boot-wearing, Teddy Roosevelt-loving frontiersman.
As President Trump's "skinny budget" loomed large, the Interior Secretary dutifully worked overtime on his public appearance. But the threat of a 10 percent—now, actually 12 percent, or $1.5 billion—cut to his agency rode backseat to Zinke's media blitz about his authentic Montana roots.
Meanwhile, dozens of conservation groups have condemned the Interior budget as a death warrant for public lands, wildlife, and outdoor recreation. Crucial historic preservation and water protection programs stand to be gutted. Money for federal land acquisition will allegedly go toward national park maintenance, but the budget is devoid of any details on how that transition will happen. What is clear is that under Trump, the Interior will divert much of its funds toward energy development on public lands.
"Gutting the programs and agency funding that helps conserve fish and wildlife and our sporting traditions is no way to support the rural and local economies that need outdoor recreation dollars most," said Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation partnership.
But let's take a look at Zinke's recent activity, shall we?
On his first day of work, the Secretary showed up in a literal parade. Sitting pretty on a horse named "Tonto," Zinke rode with National Park Service police in a procession along the National Mall. A spokesperson for the agency told me at the time it was the first time any secretary had ridden a horse for this occasion.
Further cementing his cowboy status, Zinke complained to the International Journal review that the National Park Service stables were woefully inadequate. (In case you missed it, Zinke rides. Horses, that is. He's a horse-man.)
Ironically, Zinke attributed the stable's poor quality to funding deficiencies.
"Now this stable, this one was build out of wood. Not good for the horses if there's a fire, right? It also has holes in the roof. You know why? Because it was built under a popular suicide bridge. People jump and put a hole in the roof of the stable. So our best horses live in a stable with holes through the roof and no place to run. I'm hoping to fix this. We need a proper facility for our horses, where they can run and live safely. This is the administration to get this done, too. You know why? Because I ride. Our Secretary of State rides. Our Vice President and his wife ride. They need good, healthy horses in D.C. and, of course, so do our officers."
Okay, great. We all look forward to seeing the Secretary's budget measures for improving these issues. The agency can't afford to buy its own mounts, instead soliciting donations of horses, but surely it'll find the means to get Vice President Pence a nice whip.
Zinke's social media presence is arguably the most impressive out of all his peers. Last week, he decided to show off his new office decor.
He got out in the field.
Unfortunately, Trump's budget offered few details on how the system's maintenance backlog will be remedied.
"Many details are lacking, and while it does include increased funding to tackle parks' $12 billion deferred maintenance backlog, the deep cuts to the Department of the Interior and key EPA clean water and enforcement programs demonstrate how irresponsible this budget is," said John Garder, director of Budget and Appropriations at the National Parks Conservation Association.
The Secretary shoveled snow back in Montana.
He also shoveled snow on the National Mall! How lucky that a photographer was there to capture the moment.
As you can see, Zinke is eager to convince us he's a man of the people. The people being citizens who love, use, and rely on public lands. He has always aligned himself with sportsmen, which earned him the support of some of the most dedicated conservationists in America. Few people know and appreciate the nation's public lands more than hunters, anglers, and outdoor recreationists.
But when it came time for Zinke to advocate for them, he failed. "I looked at the budget. I'm not happy, but we're going to fight about it, and I think I'm going to win at the end of the day," Zinke said earlier this month of the Interior budget draft.
In a press release today, Zinke offered a neutered response to the $1.5 billion cut. Echoing Trump's statements about putting energy security first, Zinke provided few assurances that access to public lands would be a priority in 2018.
Now, it's up to Congress to deliberate on its own appropriations. We'll be keeping an eye on Montana.