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Interior Department: Bang, Bang, Shoot 'Em Up!


Lately, every month seems to be gun month at the Department of Interior/DOI

There's a new sheriff in town, and he's more than willing to have you test his aim.

Back in March, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke rode into office on Tonto Silvershoes -- reportedly an Irish sport horse, not a Quarter Horse or American Paint -- in downtown Washington, D.C., and the only things missing were a rifle scabbard perched on his saddle and a six shooter dangling from his hip. 

Interior Secretary Zinke is always ready to promote hunting on public lands/DOI

But Secretary Zinke quickly established his Western bona fides, not only with his horsemanship and ever-ready cowboy hat or orange hunting vest and ballcap, but also by reaching out (some might say overreaching) to the shooting community. Not only did he appoint Susan LaPierre, a National Rifle Association luminary and wife of NRA Executive Director Wayne LaPierre, to the National Park Foundation's Board of Directors, but he also has:

* Overturned the Obama administration ban on lead shot and fishing tackle.

* Told the National Park Service in Alaska to review its bans against the use of donuts and grease-soaked loaves of bread to lure bears into range of hunters.

* Proclaimed August as National Sports Shooting Month.

* Directed the land-management agencies under his auspices to, when possible, allow target shooting in national monuments, even though that's a significant cause of wildfires. (And then there was the target-shooting-related death at Tule Springs Fossil Beds National Monument in Nevada.)

* Declared October to be National Hunting and Fishing Month

* Encouraged Interior employees to share their "hunting and fishing memories."

* Directed the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to open up, or expand, hunting and fishing on ten refuges.

* Had his staff issue a release on "Everything you need to know about hunting on public lands."

* And even installed at the Interior Department cafeteria in Washington, D.C., a "Big Buck Hunter Pro" arcade game so Interior employees could challenge their boss with their aim in a "Shotgun Showdown," with the "winner earning bragging rights and a personal visit with the Secretary."

Interior Secretary Zinke has added an arcade game to the Interior Department cafeteria

“Some of my best memories are hunting and fishing ​with my dad and granddad, and then later teaching my own kids to hunt and fish​," Secretary Zinke said, rehashing a phrase he's used in quite a few of his previous proclamations. "That's something I want more families to experience. ​Hunters and ​anglers are the backbone of wildlife​ and habitat​ conservation​ in America​ ​because sportsmen contribute billions of dollars to conservation​.

"From my perspective, the more sportsmen we have in the woods and waters, the better our wildlife and land ​will be. The 'Shotgun Showdown' will help reignite the passion and emphasis of hunting and fishing at the Department, and will be a fun way to advance our mission of wildlife and habitat conservation."

The "new" Interior Department's determined branding with the shooting and hunting industry also is evident on the photo depicting orange-clad hunters riding horses across a snowy landscape that graces the top of Interior's webpage (Did you spot the rifle?) and the secretary's occasional tweets regarding hunting and even the NRA.

On his Facebook page, the secretary also frequently calls out the hunting and fishing community and at times the NRA:

Today I joined the Women's Leadership Forum to shoot clays. Hunters and anglers contribute billions of dollars to conservation through excise taxes paid when sportsmen and women purchase firearms, ammo, and tackle. Millions more are raised through hunting and fishing licenses and Duck Stamps. The more target shooters, hunters, and anglers there are, the more funding for a conservation. Increasing access to public lands is key. -- September 23

Hunting and fishing is a big part of what we do at Interior from hunting on Bureau of Land Management land and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Refuges to fishing in National Park Service and Bureau of Reclamation waters. This week the Interior employee cafeteria got a new addition - the classic arcade game Big Buck Hunter. The game will be in the cafeteria, free to play, to get our employees excited about hunting season and to remind everyone about the important role that sportsmen and women play in conservation.  -- September 18

September 23 is National Hunting and Fishing Day - held every year since 1972. It’s the perfect day for sportsmen and women to share their passion by mentoring future generations of hunters, anglers, and conservationists. -- September 18

Increasing access to public lands for hunting, fishing, and recreation is a top priority at the Department of the Interior.  -- September 17

Hunting and fishing is a cornerstone of the American tradition and hunters and anglers of America are the backbone of land and wildlife conservation. The more people we can get outdoors, the better things will be for our public lands. As someone who grew up hunting and fishing on our public lands - packing bologna sandwiches and heading out at 4AM with my dad - I know how important it is to expand access to public lands for future generations. -- September 15

Great to see more Americans enjoying the great outdoors! This report is good news but also absolutely underscores the need to increase public access to public lands across the United States. Hunting and fishing are a part of the American heritage. As a kid who grew up hunting and fishing on public lands who later took my own kids out on the same land, I know how important it is to expand access for future generations. -- September 7

It's September which means more hunting seasons are opening up across the nation. Don't forget that public lands offer some of the best hunting opportunities -- September 1

On behalf of our nation's millions of hunters, I was proud to designate August as National Shooting Sports Month at the Department. I grew up in the mountains of northwest Montana, where I spent my time hunting and fishing on our shared public lands. I was lucky to take my boys out on the same land that my dad and granddad took me. -- August 31

Today I sent my report on the national monuments to the White House. No President should use the authority under the Antiquities Act to restrict public access, prevent hunting and fishing, burden private land, or eliminate traditional land uses, unless such action is needed to protect the object. -- August 24

This week the Department opened up access for hunting and fishing in 10 wildlife refuges across the country. I grew up in the mountains of northwest Montana, where I spent my time hunting and fishing on our shared public lands. I was lucky to take my boys out on the same land that my dad and granddad took me. -- August 11

I'm happy to announce today the Department intends to finalize the process to consider whether to accept 3,595 acres to make the Sabinoso Wilderness area accessible to hunters and all members of the public for the first time ever. Expanding access to hunting, fishing, and recreation on federal lands is one of my top priorities as Secretary. -- August 9

It goes on, but the trend is clear: Secretary Zinke is a BIG proponent of hunting and fishing.

And that's fine.

Both activities grew up with the country and play important roles, whether it's putting food on the table, helping manage species such as deer and elk in settings where there no longer are predators to control the populations, and instilling conservation ethics and a love for the outdoors.

How long before Secretary Zinke raises discussion of redesigning the logos for the Interior Department and the National Park Service to include rifle scope cross-hairs over the bison, and the NRA insignia on the mountain? And when it comes to controlling big game populations through hunting, perhaps that's a solution to the nonnative mountain goats at Olympic National Park, where a plan is in the works to reduce, and possibly eliminate, the population.

But, hunting and fishing aren't the only activities that benefit from public lands administered by the Interior Department, and the fact remains that hunting participation is on the slide while other outdoor activities are growing significantly and contributing much more economically. Indeed, participation and economic contribution from hunting are dwarfed by some other recreational activities on public lands.

According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's five-year report on outdoor recreation, released September 7:


As one of the most popular outdoor recreational activities in the United States, fishing attracted 35.8 million individuals 16 years old and older in 2016. ... Anglers spent $46.1 billion on trips, equipment, licenses, and other items to support their fishing activities in 2016.


In 2016, 11.5 million people, 5% of the U.S. population 16 years old and older, went hunting. ... Hunters spent $25.6 billion on trips, equipment, licenses, and other items to support their hunting activities in 2016.

Wildlife Watching

Wildlife watching is a favorite pastime for millions in the U.S. Over 86 million people 16 years old and older fed, photographed, and observed wildlife in 2016. ... They spent $75.9 billion on their activities

What the report did not touch on are the numbers of hikers and backpackers ($201.5 billion in annual spending), paddlers, skiers and snowshoers ($73 billion/year), campers ($166.8 billion/year), RVers, and rock climbers who enjoy public lands and also have a great economic impact. According to the Outdoor Industry Association, 42 million Americans hike, 45.8 million participate in biking (road, mountain and BMX), and 40.5 million camp (car, backyard, backpacking, RV). And, of course, 331 million folks went into the National Park System last year.

When will the secretary designate a "National Hiking Month" or a "National Birdwatching Day"?

At the end of the day, let's hope these other outdoor pursuits get equal time with the hunter-in-chief leading Interior.

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Zinke is a bit one-sided in his views, I think.  Hunting is all well and good, but, given your dollar figures listed above, even combined, that doesn't match the spending power of the regular hiker / photographer / backcountry backpacker / camper / skier / snowshoer / climber / paddler / red-or-yellow jammer bus rider / average tourist just spending a day or two in a national park.  Zinke appears to have conveniently forgotten these particular visitors.

Personally, I'd rather shoot wildlife with a camera.  Of course, as another reader suggests, I probably need to start shopping around for a bright orange kevlar vest (they do sell them), so when I'm in the park, the hunters don't mistake me for an elk, or bear, or whatever animal du jour at which they aim their high-powererd rifles.  Oh, wait a minute, I won't be sleeping in a den and I don't particularly like grease-soaked donuts (ok, I do like donuts...).  Oh, and the thought of involving the NRA in our national parks scares the hell out of me. They come off as being hateful and fearmongering and downright nasty.  And I'm a gun owner myself! (no, not a member of the NRA and never will be). 

P.S. Based upon what I have read about Theodore Roosevelt, I believe that Zinke is a bit presumptious in likening himself to Roosevelt. Yes, Roosevelt enjoyed hunting, but Roosevelt was so much more and stood for so much more than Zinke will ever hope to.  Roosevelt spent time with the naturalist John Muir (can't imagine Zinke spending time with anybody unless they had a gun in their hand ready to shoot down some wildlife).  President Roosevelt signed into existence five national parks, 18 national monuments, 55 national bird sanctuaries and wildlife refuges, and 150 national forests (excerpt from the  Roosevelt believed in preserving our lands, not shooting them full of holes for target practice.

Thanks, Rebecca.  Your post this morning is as good as your photography.


Zinke appears to have conveniently forgotten these particular visitors.

And how exactly has he "forgotten" them?  I don't see anything he has done as impairing those particular visitors.  In fact other than baiting bears, I don't see anything particularly objectionable on Kurt's laundry list. 


A slightly skewed picture as only 23.7 million wildlife viewers traveled away from their homes to do so. In addition, wildlife viewing can be done year round while hunting and fishing is generally limited to certain seasons. While I no longer hunt myself I still fish and associate with hunters, fishermen & fisher women as well as nature photographers, hikers, backpackers and campers and all sorts of combinations of them. All of them who are passionate about their hobbies have a great deal of respect and value natural areas and wildlife. Most also respect each other. There are exceptions to be found in any group. Unethical and disrespectful hunters, photographers, hikers and RVers. Fortunately they are the exception rather than the rule.

EC and Wild, this post is not intended to disparage hunters or anglers. Indeed, they belong on the landscape.

The concern is that the secretary seems to be overlooking other groups that don't just have a larger economic contribution than hunting and fishing, but are more prevalent on the public landscape. We're still waiting for those "days" and "months" dedicated to hikers, RVers, campers, birdwatchers, outdoor photographers, and more.

Hopefully they're coming. But I have a feeling that if the secretary were so one-sided in praising hiking or birdwatching or mountain biking he'd draw criticism from Western politicians, and the NRA, at least. 

The pendulum shouldn't swing too far to either side of the spectrum. Public lands are for all of us, no matter our passion. When it comes to the secretary of the Interior, he/she shouldn't hold one use so high above another.

What's also interesting, to head in a slightly different direction, is that not all hunters and anglers are in lockstep behind the secretary.

Backcountry Hunters and Anglers has launched a media campaign critical of Zinke's monuments report.

We're still waiting for those "days" and "months" dedicated to hikers, RVers, campers, birdwatchers, outdoor photographers, and more.

They already exist.

That would appear to be a collective celebration of all aspects and forms of outdoor recreation, EC, which makes the current secretary's efforts on behalf of hunting and fishing stand out even more...

Could a lot of this be a generational thing or even something on a bigger scale.  Plenty of room for multiple use and people's individual ways of experiencing the wild places.  The cacaphonous wining going on to get their own way and litigous income has certainly carried the day for some years now.  A return to something that we can have some joy without constant combat certqainly, I believe, bring some peace to many of us that see to much BS spouted.  I wonder, Kurt, what the Senior Repansek might chime in to many of these issues.  I suspect you would know what he'd say but he probably has to much sense to enter the discussion and possibly mess up a beautiful day to experience.  Im stepping out on a limb here, Kurt, I know.   As you can tell Im not an English major and admit that to possibly head off the typical personal gramatical attacks that a couple of your posters use instead of actual critical thinking.  

Blessings to you all wherever you stand on these issues.

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