After weeks of anticipation, the U.S. Senate this morning finally took a vote on the confirmation of Montana’s Ryan Zinke as Secretary of the Interior.
Ryan Zinke was confirmed on a 68-31 vote that included support from Nevada U.S. Sens. Dean Heller, a Republican, and Catherine Cortez Masto, a Democrat.
President Donald Trump nominated Zinke, 55, a former U.S. Navy SEAL, to head the department citing his knowledge of public lands in Western states and his desire to protect those lands from transfer to private owners.
Cortez Masto said she supported Zinke because “his stance against wholesale land transfers assures me that he has an understanding of just how essential it is to preserve and protect our public lands.”
But Cortez Masto said she also has concerns about his review of presidential designations of national monuments. She said she would keep watch to ensure the Interior Department “is always acting in the best interest of Nevadans.”
In December, President Barack Obama used the Antiquities Act of 1906 to designate 300,000 acres in Nevada and 1.35 million acres in the Bears Ears region of Utah as national monuments — calling Gold Butte and Bears Ears cultural, historical and natural treasures.
But the action was immediately met with opposition from conservatives in both states who claimed the president abused the Antiquities Act to shield the public lands from state and private use.
Heller and U.S. Rep. Mark Amodei, R-Nev., sponsored legislation in the Senate and House that would limit future presidential administrations from making designations without more input from local leaders and stakeholders.
Heller said he supported Zinke because of his Western roots and views on public land management.
Zinke is a native of Montana. Following his military service, he served in the state Senate before being elected to Congress.
“With over 85 percent of Nevada’s public land administered by the federal government, we need a Department of the Interior that will work with, not against us on important public land priorities,” Heller said.
During testimony before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, Zinke promised to review Obama’s designation of Gold Butte and the Bears Ears regions of those two states as monuments.
Cortez Masto, who sits on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, wrangled a promise out of Zinke during that hearing. He pledged to visit Nevada and speak with stakeholders before completing his review and before sending recommendations to the president.
The Antiquities Act authorizes presidents to make designations, but does not give them authority to rescind previous designations.
U.S. Rep. Dina Titus, D-Nev., who worked with former Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid to get the presidential designation at Gold Butte, dismissed any effort by the Trump administration to rescind Obama’s action.
“No administration has ever revoked a national monument designation. I will work to ensure that remains the case for Gold Butte,” Titus said.
Titus said she looked forward to Zinke’s visit to Southern Nevada so he can meet with people who “have poured their hearts into protecting Nevada’s piece of the Grand Canyon.”
Zinke also told senators during his confirmation hearing that he is intent on addressing the backlog of maintenance at national parks, and upgrading management of public lands.
He called himself a “Roosevelt conservationist,” who enjoys and wants to protect public lands. Under the Interior Department, Zinke will manage more than 400 million acres — most of which is located in states west of the Mississippi River.
While Zinke opposes public land transfers, he has also called for energy production on Bureau of Land Management property in Western states.
Heller said Zinke would “restore common sense to land management and prioritize policies that bolster mining, ranching, hunting, fishing and energy production in the west.”