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Add Boat Tour In Channel Islands To Travel Of Secretary Zinke Under Scrutiny


Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke swears in Junior Rangers at a ceremony in April in Channel Islands National Park/DOI

Already under investigation for charter flights taken this summer, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke is now facing scrutiny for an April boat trip in Channel Islands National Park that included family members and featured a swearing-in ceremony for Junior Rangers.

According to documents released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, the NPS boat Ocean Ranger left its port in Ventura, California, on April 18 to travel to Santa Barbara Harbor to pick up Zinke, his wife, and aunt to take them and other members of his party to Santa Rosa Island, part of the Channel Islands, and back that same day.

The party spent more time at sea than on the island, with a three-hour itinerary that consisted largely of photo ops, a tour, lunch, and Secretary Zinke swearing in middle school students as Junior Rangers.

“There is nothing deeply wrong with this ‘grip-and-grin’ tour, but it is galling when the secretary is telling everyone else to tighten their belts,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, who obtained the documents under the Freedom of Information Act after employees complained of the time and expense lost for no discernible purpose. “Taxpayers should not foot the bill for public officials acting as tourists.”

According to PEER:

  • Use of the government ship cost taxpayers around $4,000, including fuel and crew overtime, an estimate that does not include the time of several NPS staff;
  • Secretary Zinke also brought along two local fishermen whom he classified as “technical experts,” though on what issue is unclear. As such, they traveled for free; and
  • To pay for his wife and aunt, NPS presented Mr. Zinke with a bill for $142, which by mid-June increased to $152 with late fees. The bill appears to have been paid by late June.

Late last week, after news broke that Mr. Zinke chartered a plane to fly from Las Vegas to Montana at a cost of $12,375, the Interior secretary referred to the flap as "a little BS over travel." Rather than fly commercial for roughly $300 so he could stick around Las Vegas to speak at a private professional hockey team affair unrelated to his role overseeing the country's public lands and resources. The team is owned, according to the Center for Western Priorities, by Bill Foley, chairman of Fidelity National Financial, the largest contributor to Mr. Zinke's political career.

A spokeswoman for Interior’s Office of Inspector General’s office, Nancy DiPaolo, confirmed to the Associated Press on Monday that it is investigating Zinke’s use of charter flights.

Then, on Tuesday, House Committee on Natural Resources Chairman Rob Bishop, a Utah Republican, and Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations Chairman Bruce Westerman, a Republican from Arkansas, sent a letter to Secretary Zinke on the use of noncommercial aircraft for official business.

“Ethical guidelines are on the books to promote transparency and responsible use of taxpayer dollars. Federal officials should be held to the highest ethical standard in adhering to these rules,” Rep. Bishop said in a statement. “When violations occur, the public deserves to know. When willful violations occur, there should be consequences. When partisan opportunists conflate diligent conformance to scandal, no one wins. Let’s get all facts on the table, ensure taxpayers are protected, and proceed with the peoples’ business.”

The letter requests documents regarding Interior policies and guidelines for travel when using “government-owned, rented, leased, or chartered aircraft” and “each use of a government-owned, rented, leased, or chartered aircraft by the Secretary of the Department of the Interior since January 20, 2009,” a period that also covers the years led by Ken Salazar (2009-2013) and Sally Jewell (2013-2017).

Back at Channel Islands, PEER took issue with Secretary Zinke expressing a desire to open a “working demonstration ranch” on Santa Rosa Island to “highlight the island’s ranching heritage,” quoting a note from the park superintendent. The Zinke tour group also included members of the Vail family, which ran a cattle ranch on the island until 1998 and a commercial hunting operation there until 2011.

“Cattle and imported game animals are not the ‘heritage’ of Santa Rosa but an aberrant moment in its history,” added Ruch, noting a recent directive by Secretary Zinke to maximize hunting opportunities even on national park lands. “Our major concern is that Ryan Zinke wants to turn this ecological jewel back into a game preserve.”



When even Rob Bishop has something sensible to say about this, we know Zinke's tail feathers may be smoking a bit. 

I don't begrudge Zinke a day trip out to Santa Rosa Island.  I think it's a good thing for him to see more of the parks.  I wouldn't have complained if he flew out in a little airplane, which still isn't expensive and would have given him a better overview of the islands and maybe a couple more hours out there.

However, I wish that while he was on that boat ride, he'd been a bit more interested in listening to the park folks explain the fundamental issues of the islands.  He might have learned that not only was ranching what Ruch called "aberrant moment in history", it also simply wasn't sustainable on those islands.  The livestock & big game grazing ate & trampled the vegetation enough to cause complete loss of 2-3' of topsoil in many areas, topsoil that isn't going to come back for centuries.  Much of the moisture plants use comes from condensed fog; with bare bedrock there's no plants to capture the fog, so no plants generating litter and breaking down the rock to create soil.

NPS CHIS web page:

I've put 3 of my pics from Santa Rosa on my google drive.

Oak trees with roots standing 2-3' above bedrock because that 2-3' of soil they grew in has simply eroded away:

Wider view of oaks on ridge denuded of soil:

That's not just damage to the ecosystem, what is left clearly can't support grazing because there's nothing left to graze.  That would have looked like California oak woodland / grassland before the grazing.  Much but not all of the upland of the island looks like this.

A shot of 8-10' of topsoil eroded from the hills above in the past ~100-200 years, deposited at the mouth of a canyon, then recut by water coming down the canyon:

Even more of that eroded topsoil is in the near offshore environment, affecting the rocky subtidal and kelp beds.

[If Kurt can grab the pics, reduce the resolution & file size, and make them available on NPT, that would be great.]



Lee, I think you mistake the intent of Rep. Bishop's letter. They are basically agreeing that it is nothing other than "a little BS." You see, when a career employee does it whther willfully or not, condequences must occur. When a political appointee does it, the public only deserves to know, that is, unless "partisan opportunists conflate diligent conformance to scandal" in the mind of those who are supposed to be minding the store,  in which case it is doubtful that Congress cares at all.

Yes, I just went back and reread Bishop's blather.  Looks like you're right.  I should have known it was much too good to be more than just more political flattus. 

This guy just loves the cookie jar being within reach.

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