Ryan Zinke
Rep. Ryan Zinke official photo, 118th Congress.jpg
Member of the
U.S. House of Representatives
from Montana
Assumed office
January 3, 2023
Preceded byConstituency re-established
Constituency1st district
In office
January 3, 2015 – March 1, 2017
Preceded bySteve Daines
Succeeded byGreg Gianforte
ConstituencyAt-large district
52nd United States Secretary of the Interior
In office
March 1, 2017 – January 2, 2019
PresidentDonald Trump
DeputyDavid Bernhardt
Preceded bySally Jewell
Succeeded byDavid Bernhardt
Member of the Montana Senate
from the 2nd district
In office
January 3, 2009 – January 3, 2013
Preceded byDan Weinberg
Succeeded byDee L. Brown
Personal details
Ryan Keith Zinke

(1961-11-01) November 1, 1961 (age 61)
Bozeman, Montana, U.S.
Political partyRepublican
Lolita Hand
(m. 1992)
EducationUniversity of Oregon (BS)
National University (MBA)
University of San Diego (MS)
Military service
Allegiance United States
Branch/service United States Navy
Years of service1986–2008
US-O5 insignia.svg
Logo Naval Special Warfare Development Group.svg
SEAL Team Six
SEAL Team One
Naval Special Warfare Center
Bronze Star Medal ribbon.svg
Bronze Star (2)
Defense Meritorious Service Medal ribbon.svg
Defense Meritorious Service Medal (2)
Meritorious Service Medal ribbon.svg
Meritorious Service Medal (4)
Joint Service Commendation Medal ribbon.svg
Joint Service Commendation Medal (2)
Army Commendation Medal ribbon.svg
Army Commendation Medal

Ryan Keith Zinke (/ˈzɪŋki/; born November 1, 1961) is an American politician and businessman serving as the U.S. representative for Montana's 1st congressional district since 2023. Zinke, a member of the Republican Party, served in the Montana Senate from 2009 to 2013 and as the U.S. representative for the at-large congressional district from 2015 to 2017.[1] He was appointed United States Secretary of the Interior by President Donald Trump in 2017 and served until his resignation in 2019.

Zinke played college football at the University of Oregon and earned a Bachelor of Science degree in geology. He also has a Master of Business Administration and a Master of Science in global leadership. He was a U.S. Navy SEAL from 1986 until 2008, retiring with the rank of commander.[2] The first Navy SEAL to be elected to the United States House of Representatives,[3] Zinke formerly served as a member on the Natural Resources Committee and the Armed Services Committee.[4] As a member of Congress, Zinke supported the use of ground troops in the Middle East to combat ISIS and opposed the Affordable Care Act, various environmental regulations, and the transfer of federal lands to individual states.

Zinke was appointed as United States Secretary of the Interior by President Donald Trump. Zinke was confirmed on March 1, 2017, becoming the first Navy SEAL and the first Montanan since statehood to occupy a Cabinet position.[5][6]

As Secretary, Zinke opened some federal lands for oil, gas and mineral exploration and extraction.[7] Zinke's actions as Secretary of the Interior raised ethical questions and were investigated by the Interior Department's Office of Inspector General.[8][9] In October 2018, the investigation into Zinke was referred to the Justice Department by Interior's inspector general.[10][11] Trump announced on December 15, 2018, that Zinke would leave his post as of January 2, 2019,[12][13] to be replaced by his deputy, David Bernhardt.[14] Ultimately, the Inspector General's report concluded that Zinke had repeatedly violated ethical rules and then lied to investigators.[15][16] His tenure as Secretary of the Interior was plagued by scandals, including his insistence that special flag poles be erected so that flags could be raised or lowered when he was in residence, spending over $200,000 of taxpayer money to do so.[17] Zinke left his post at the Department of the Interior at end of 2018 after serving for two years amid mounting misconduct allegations related to his Whitefish corruption scandal.[18]

Early life and education

Zinke was born in Bozeman, Montana, and raised in Whitefish. He is the son of Jean Montana (Harlow) Petersen and Ray Dale Zinke, a plumber.[19][20] He was a Boy Scout and earned his Eagle Scout award.[21] He was a star athlete at Whitefish High School and accepted a football scholarship to the University of Oregon in Eugene; recruited as an outside linebacker, he switched to offense and was an undersized starting center for the Ducks of the Pac-10 under head coach Rich Brooks.[22][23] Zinke earned a B.S. in geology in 1984 and graduated with honors.[24][25] Zinke's intended career path was underwater geology.[25] Despite never working as a geologist, Zinke publicly refers to himself as a geologist.[25][26] Zinke later earned an M.B.A. from National University in 1993 and a Master of Science in global leadership from the University of San Diego in 2003.[24]

Military career

Zinke during his service in the U.S. Navy
Zinke during his service in the U.S. Navy

Zinke served as a U.S. Navy SEAL from 1986 to 2008, retiring at the rank of commander.[27] Zinke graduated from Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL training (BUD/S) class 136 in February 1986[2] and subsequently served with SEAL Team ONE. Following SEAL Tactical Training and completion of six month probationary period, he received the 1130 designator as a Naval Special Warfare Officer, entitled to wear the Special Warfare insignia also known as ""SEAL Trident"". Zinke completed a deployment to WESTPAC[clarification needed] as platoon commander in 1988. His next assignment was as a First Phase Officer of BUD/S from 1988 until May 1991. In 1991, Zinke received orders to United States Naval Special Warfare Development Group (NSWDG) and completed a specialized selection and training course. Zinke served at the command till June 1993, during which time he planned, rehearsed and operated during classified operations.[22][28] Zinke then served as a Plans officer for Commander in Chief, U.S. Naval Forces, Europe and served a second tour with NSWDG as team leader, ground force commander, task force commander and current operations officer from 1996 to 1999.[22]

In the late 1990s, Zinke paid back the Navy $211 after improperly billing the government for personal travel expenses. Zinke's former commanding officer, now-retired Vice Admiral Albert M. Calland III, stated that as a result, Zinke received a June 1999 Fitness Report that blocked him from being promoted to a commanding officer position, or to the rank of captain.[29][30] Zinke acknowledged the error but maintains that the incident did not adversely affect his career.[29] His promotion from lieutenant commander to commander was approved the following year.[31]

From 1999 to 2001, Zinke served as executive officer for the Naval Special Warfare Unit Two and then as executive officer, Naval Special Warfare Center from 2001 to 2004. In 2004, Zinke was the deputy and acting commander of the Combined Joint Special Operations Task Force-Arabian Peninsula.[24] Zinke's campaign website stated that he was "the deputy and acting commander" of Combined Joint Special Operations Task Force–Arabian Peninsula and "led a force of more than 3,500 Special Operations personnel in Iraq" in 2004.[29] Retired Major General Michael S. Repass, who was Zinke's superior in Iraq, told The New York Times that these claims "might be a stretch" but that Zinke "did a good job" and was "a competent guy."[29] Following his tours in Iraq, Zinke served "as the second-ranking officer (and briefly acting commander) of the main SEAL training center."[29] In 2006, Zinke was selected to establish the Naval Special Warfare Advanced Training Command, serving as dean of the graduate school until his retirement from active duty in 2008.[24] The graduate school had 250 educators, offering over 43 college-level courses to over 2,500 students annually at 15 different locations worldwide.[32] He retired from the Navy in 2008.[29][30]

Awards and decorations

U.S. military decorations
Gold star
Bronze Star with gold award star[29][33]
Bronze oak leaf cluster
Defense Meritorious Service Medal with bronze oak leaf cluster[34]
Gold star
Gold star
Gold star
Gold star
Meritorious Service Medal with four gold award star
Bronze oak leaf cluster
Joint Service Commendation Medal with bronze oak leaf cluster
Army Commendation Medal[34]
Gold star
Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal with gold award star
Gold star
Gold star
Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal with two gold award stars
Combat Action Ribbon
Joint Meritorious Unit Award
Navy Meritorious Unit Commendation
Bronze star
National Defense Service Medal with bronze service star
Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal
Kosovo Campaign Medal
Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary Medal
Bronze star
Iraq Campaign Medal with bronze service star
Armed Forces Service Medal ribbon.svg
Armed Forces Service Medal
Humanitarian Service Medal ribbon.svg
Humanitarian Service Medal
Bronze star
Bronze star
Bronze star
Navy Sea Service Deployment Ribbon with three bronze service stars
Navy and Marine Corps Overseas Service Ribbon
NATO Medal Yugoslavia ribbon bar.svg
NATO Medal for Former Yugoslavia
U.S. Navy Expert Rifleman Ribbon.svg
Navy Expert Rifleman Medal
U.S. Navy Expert Pistol Shot Ribbon.svg
Navy Expert Pistol Shot Medal
U.S. badges, patches and tabs
United States Navy Special Warfare insignia.png
Naval Special Warfare insignia
U.S. Navy and U.S. Marine Corps Parachutist Insignia-redone.png
Navy and Marine Corps Parachutist Insignia

Business ventures

In 2005, Zinke formed Continental Divide International, a property management and business development consulting company. Zinke's family members are officers of the company. In 2009, he formed the consulting company On Point Montana. Zinke served on the board of the oil pipeline company QS Energy (formerly Save the World Air) from 2012 to 2015. In November 2014, Zinke announced that he would pass Continental Divide to his family while remaining in an advisory role.[35]

Political career

Montana Senate (2009–2013)

Zinke was elected to the Montana Senate in 2008, serving from 2009 to 2013, representing the city of Whitefish. When he served in the state senate, he "was widely seen as a moderate Republican" but subsequently drifted to the right.[36] Zinke was selected as chair of the Senate Education Committee and promoted technology in the classroom, rural access to education and local control over schools.[37] He also served on the Senate Finance and Claims Committee.[38] In his capacity as a Montana Senator, Zinke was also a member of the SEMA-supported State Automotive Enthusiast and Leadership Caucus, a bipartisan group of state lawmakers sharing an appreciation for automobiles.[39][40]

Global warming and clean energy

In 2008, Zinke stated that he "support[s] increased coal production for electrical generation and believe[s] it can and should be done with adequate environmental safeguards," and that he "believe[s] the use of alternate energy sources and clean coal is preferred over petroleum based fuels."[41] In 2010, Zinke signed a letter calling global warming "a threat multiplier for instability in the most volatile regions of the world" and stating that "the clean energy and climate challenge is America's new space race." The letter spoke of "catastrophic" costs and "unprecedented economic consequences" that would result from failing to act on climate change and asked then-President Obama and then-Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi to champion sweeping clean-energy and climate legislation.[42]

2012 campaign for lieutenant governor

Zinke was the running mate of Montana gubernatorial candidate Neil Livingstone in the 2012 election.[43] The Livingstone/Zinke ticket finished fifth out of seven in the Republican primary with 12,038 votes (8.8% of the vote).[44]

In 2012, Zinke founded the super PAC Special Operations for America (SOFA) to support Mitt Romney's presidential campaign in the 2012 election. The political action committee raised over $100,000[45] and paid $28,258 to Continental Divide International, Zinke's company, for fundraising consulting.[46] Zinke appointed right-wing commentator Paul E. Vallely, a promoter of "birther" claims and other anti-Obama conspiracy theories, to the board of the super PAC.[47] Zinke announced he was resigning as chairman of SOFA on September 30, 2013, with his friend, former Navy SEAL Gary Stubblefield taking his place.[45] While Zinke's financial disclosure report for 2014 listed him as the chairman of the super PAC, the super PAC had been making independent expenditures in support of Zinke's campaign since November 20, 2013.[46] In 2014, the Campaign Legal Center and Democracy 21 filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission regarding coordination between Zinke's campaign and the super PAC. As of December 2016, the FEC hadn't taken any action on the matter.[46]

Radio show

In 2013, Zinke hosted a radio show in which he engaged with and promoted fringe conspiratorial views, including birtherism (the contention that Obama was not born in the United States). Zinke said on the radio show that he was not sure whether Obama was a foreign citizen and called on Obama to release his college transcripts. Later, in 2016, as a congressman, Zinke appeared on the radio show Where's Obama's Birth Certificate, known for its promotion of birther conspiracy theories.[48]

2014 House election

See also: 2014 United States House of Representatives election in Montana

In the spring of 2014, Zinke announced his candidacy for Montana's at-large congressional district, a seat vacated when its Republican incumbent Rep. Steve Daines successfully sought a seat in the U.S. Senate.[49]

During the Republican primary, Zinke attracted attention for referring to Hillary Rodham Clinton as "the real enemy" and the "anti-Christ."[36][50] Zinke touted his anti-abortion credentials and received the endorsement of the Montana Right to Life Association.[51]

Zinke won the five-way Republican primary with 43,766 votes (33.25%) and faced Libertarian perennial candidate Mike Fellows and Democratic nominee John Lewis, a former state director for Democratic Sen. Max Baucus, in the general election.

Zinke prevailed in the general election, winning 55.4% of the nearly 350,000 votes cast statewide.[52]

U.S. House of Representatives (2015–2017)

Zinke during the 114th Congress
Zinke during the 114th Congress

In Congress, Zinke supported the deployment of U.S. ground troops to combat ISIS, "abandoning" the Affordable Care Act, and cutting regulations.[36] He supported a Republican effort to repeal the estate tax.[53]

Zinke condemned the "anti-Semitic views" held by neo-Nazis planning a march in support of Richard B. Spencer in Whitefish, Montana in January 2017.[54]

Political positions


In 2015, Zinke voted for an amendment proposed by Democratic Rep. Dave Loebsack from Iowa's 2nd congressional district that provided for the expansion of the use of digital learning through the establishment of a competitive grant program to implement and evaluate the results of technology-based learning practices.[55] The amendment passed 218–213.[56]

Environmental regulation

Zinke frequently voted in opposition to environmentalists on issues including coal extraction and oil and gas drilling.[57] When President Trump opened nearly all U.S. coastal waters to extractive drilling, rescinding President Obama's protections, nearly a dozen coastal states protested. Zinke visited with the Florida governor and exempted only that coast from drilling.[58][59]

Climate change

Zinke has shifted on the issue of climate change over time.[60] In 2010, while in the state Senate, Zinke was one of nearly 1,200 state legislators who signed a letter to President Obama and Congress calling for "comprehensive clean energy jobs and climate change legislation."[60] Since 2010, however, Zinke has repeatedly expressed doubt about anthropogenic climate change; in an October 2014 debate, Zinke stated: "it's not a hoax, but it's not proven science either."[60] During Senate confirmation hearings on his nomination as Interior Secretary, Zinke said that humans "influence" climate change, but did not acknowledge the scientific consensus that human activity is the dominant cause of climate change.[61]

Transfers of federal lands to states

Zinke broke with most Republicans on the issue of transfers of federal lands to the states, calling such proposals "extreme" and voting against them.[62] In July 2016, Zinke withdrew as a delegate to the Republican National Convention in protest of the portion of the party's draft platform which would require that certain public lands be transferred to state control. Zinke said that he endorses "better management of federal land" rather than transfers.[63]

Committee assignments

2016 House election

See also: 2016 United States House of Representatives election in Montana

In 2016, Zinke ran unopposed in the Republican primary on June 7 and faced Democratic nominee and Superintendent of Public Instruction Denise Juneau in the general election on November 8.[64] Zinke defeated Juneau with 56% of the vote.[65]

Secretary of the Interior (2017–2019)

Zinke's "in the field" portrait as Secretary of Interior
Zinke's "in the field" portrait as Secretary of Interior

Donald Trump Jr. recommended to his father that Zinke be chosen to be the Secretary of the Interior.[66] Zinke was named as then-President-elect Donald Trump's nominee for United States Secretary of the Interior on December 13, 2016.[67] His nomination was approved by the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee in a 16–6 vote on January 31, 2017,[68] and he was confirmed by the full Senate in a 68–31 vote on March 1.[6][69] Among the U.S. Senators expressing support for Zinke's confirmation was Democratic Sen. Jon Tester from Montana.[70] Zinke was sworn into office by Vice President Mike Pence on the same day.[71]

The day after his swearing-in, Zinke rode a United States Park Police horse named Tonto several blocks to the entrance of the Department of Interior's Main Interior Building to his official welcoming ceremony.[72][73]

On May 24, 2017, in the Montana special election to fill Zinke's vacated House seat, Republican nominee Greg Gianforte defeated Democratic nominee Rob Quist, with 49.7% of the vote to Quist's 44.1%.[74]

Rescinded ban on lead bullets

On his first full day in office, Zinke rescinded the policy implemented on January 19, 2017, the last day of the Obama administration, by outgoing Fish and Wildlife Service Director Daniel M. Ashe that banned the use of lead bullets and lead fishing tackle in national wildlife refuges. Zinke said: "Over the past eight years … hunting, and recreation enthusiasts have seen trails closed and dramatic decreases in access to public lands across the board. It worries me to think about hunting and fishing becoming activities for the land-owning elite. This package of secretarial orders will expand access for outdoor enthusiasts and also make sure the community's voice is heard."[75] The regulation was meant to help prevent lead contamination of plants and animals.[76][77][78]

The move was opposed by the Sierra Club,[76] Center for Biological Diversity,[79] and other environmental groups.[78][79] The rollback was praised by Senator Steve Daines from Montana,[76] the National Rifle Association,[76][77] and National Shooting Sports Foundation,[79] as well as other "gun rights advocates, sportsmen's groups, conservatives and state wildlife agencies."[76]

National Monument reductions

In April 2017, Zinke began reviewing at least 27 national monuments to determine if any of the monuments could be reduced in size. In June 2017, Zinke recommended that Bears Ears National Monument boundaries be scaled back. In August, Zinke 2017 added the Grand Staircase–Escalante National Monument and Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument to the planned list of monuments to be shrunk as well, while also calling for new management rules for multiple national monuments to decrease the number of actions that are prohibited within the monuments.[80][81][82]

In December 2017, Trump signed executive proclamations that reduced Bears Ears National Monument by 85% and Grand Staircase–Escalante National Monument by almost 46%. These moves prompted several legal challenges. One day later, Zinke issued a report recommending that Trump also shrink two more national monuments—Gold Butte National Monument in Nevada and Cascade–Siskiyou National Monument in Oregon. Zinke also recommended changes to the management of six other national monuments.[83] These changes were welcomed by Republicans such as Congressman Rob Bishop, the chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, but condemned by Democrats and environmentalist groups such as the Natural Resources Defense Council and Sierra Club.[83][84]

After The New York Times took Zinke's Interior Department to court, it won and got 25,000 documents, of which 4,500 pages were related to Zinke's multi-monument review, and which showed the administration set out to increase coal, oil and gas mining access. The documents also showed that the Zinke administration's new map largely matched a map previously promoted by longtime Utah Senator Orrin Hatch, whose plan claimed it "would resolve all known mineral conflicts for SITLA [Utah School and Institutional Trust Lands Administration] within the Bears Ears… the real [beneficiaries] are Utah schoolchildren and the people of San Juan County," a claim disputed as hypocritical by the Utah Diné Bikéyah tribe.[85]

Expenditure controversies

In September 2017, it was reported that on June 26, Zinke had chartered a jet belonging to an oil industry executive for a flight from Las Vegas to Kalispell, Montana. Zinke had been in Las Vegas to make an announcement related to public lands and to deliver a speech to the National Hockey League's Vegas Golden Knights, an expansion franchise owned by William P. Foley, a major donor to Zinke's congressional campaigns. The chartered flight cost taxpayers $12,375. Costs for commercial flights between Las Vegas and Kalispell typically start at $300. Upon arrival in Kalispell, Zinke spent the night at his private residence before delivering remarks at the annual meeting of the Western Governors Association the next morning. Zinke and his staffers returned to Washington on a commercial flight the next day.[9][86][87]

Zinke used private aircraft and performed political duties in relation to an April 1 trip between St. Croix and St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands. Zinke had been in St. Croix on March 30 for an official meeting with Governor Kenneth Mapp during the day, and spent the night at a fundraiser for the Republican Party of the Virgin Islands, where donors of between $1,500 and $5,000 were allowed to have their pictures taken with Zinke. The following morning, Zinke took a private flight costing the government $3,150 to St. Thomas to celebrate the centennial of the Islands' handover to the United States by Denmark.[88]

In December 2017, Politico reported that Zinke had booked government helicopters for more than $14,000 to travel in June and July 2017.[89] One of these trips was the swearing-in ceremony of his successor in Congress; the Department of Interior defended the use of government helicopters instead of a two-hour car drive by saying Zinke would otherwise not be able to fully participate in the swearing-in ceremony.[89] An Interior spokesperson also said to a Politico reporter inquiring about the expenses, "Shame on you for not respecting the office of a Member of Congress."[89] Another of these trips was the use of a Park Police helicopter to have a horseback ride with Vice President Mike Pence; the Interior Department justified the use of the helicopter over the three-hour car drive by saying "the Secretary will be able to familiarize himself with the in-flight capabilities of an aircraft he is in charge of" and that Park Police staff would "provide an added measure of security to the Secretary during his travel."[89] Zinke dismissed Politico's reporting as "total fabrications and a wild departure of reality" but did not identify any inaccuracies in Politico's reporting.[90]

In March 2018, the Associated Press reported that the Interior Department spent approximately $139,000 to upgrade three sets of double doors in Zinke's office. However, a spokesperson claimed Zinke was unaware of the relevant work contract.[91]

Inspector general investigations and other inquiries

In October 2017, the Interior Department's Office of Inspector General (OIG) launched an investigation into Zinke's use of three charter flights during his tenure as Interior Secretary.[8] In April 2018, OIG released its report, concluding that Zinke's chartered flight to give a speech to the June 2017 speech to the Las Vegas Golden Knights NHL team was authorized "without complete information" and that the speech was not official business because Zinke did not discuss the Interior Department or his role as Interior Secretary. OIG concluded that the two other charter flights, one to Alaska and the other to the U.S. Virgin Islands, "appeared to have been reasonable as related to official DOI business."[92][93]

The United States Office of Special Counsel launched a Hatch Act investigation into Zinke's meeting with the Vegas Golden Knights NHL team in October 2017.[94]

In a March 2018 Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, Zinke said it was false that he had taken a "private jet anywhere," noting that the charter flights he took were on aircraft with propellers, not jet engines.[95][96]

As of October 30, 2018, Zinke has been referred to the Department of Justice for investigation by the OIG, including whether Zinke lied to the OIG regarding his involvement in reviewing a tribal casino project in Connecticut.[97] The two Connecticut tribes claim that the Interior Department refused to sign off on the casino project after intense lobbying by MGM Resorts International and two Nevada Republican lawmakers.[98] Zinke said he was interviewed twice by the OIG regarding the casino decision and that he was truthful both times.[99] In late 2019, Deputy Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen stalled the probe into Zinke. Federal prosecutors had proposed to move forward with possible criminal charges against Zinke over his involvement in the casino deal.[100][101] In doing so, Rosen also prevented the Interior Department's Office of Inspector General from making a report about the casino deal public.[100]

Flying of Secretarial flag

The Flag of the Secretary of the Interior
The Flag of the Secretary of the Interior

Assuming his duties as Interior Secretary, Zinke ordered Interior Department officials to fly the official Secretarial Flag over the Main Interior Building whenever he was present in the building, and that of his deputy, David Bernhardt, whenever Zinke was away and Bernhardt the highest-ranking official present. According to The Washington Post, "no one can remember [the flag ritual] ever happening in the federal government."[102]

Trophy hunting

In November 2017, it was announced that President Trump, on Zinke's advice, wanted to lift the import ban on elephant and other big-game trophies from Zambia and Zimbabwe to the United States. Zinke, a passionate hunter, justified himself against critics by saying that he had his best childhood memories of hunting with his father and that he was anxious to promote hunting for American families.[103] Trump and Zinke received considerable criticism for the decision. Critics feared that lifting the import ban would trigger a wave of U.S. hunters, and that the decision would be a major blow to the survival of the elephant species. Two days later, President Trump put his decision on hold, saying that he wanted to better inform himself on the issue.[104][105][106] During the year 2014, before the sitting ban was instituted by the Obama Administration, 671 elephants, 741 lions, 311 leopards, 1,412 Cape buffaloes and 32 rhinos were killed by U.S. hunters and shipped to the U.S.[107]

Greater sage-grouse

In 2017, Zinke took steps to unwind a 2015 plan that protected the greater sage-grouse. The Interior Department sought to change sage grouse habitat management plans in 10 states in a way that could open the sage-grouse habitat to mineral extraction and grazing. These proposals were welcomed by the oil and gas industry and condemned by environmentalists.[108][109] This expansion of livestock grazing in Nevada across four hundred square miles (1,000 km2) of some of the highest priority sage-grouse habitat in the West was blocked by a federal judge in April 2021.[110]

Migratory Bird Treaty Act

Under Zinke, the Interior Department adopted a restrictive interpretation of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, issuing a guidance document stating that the killing of birds "resulting from an activity is not prohibited by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act when the underlying purpose of that activity is not to take birds."[111] The move was opposed by a bipartisan group of 17 former top Interior Department officials, including seven former heads of migratory bird management at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, who served in each administrations from Nixon to Obama. In a letter sent to Zinke and members of Congress, the former officials wrote that "This legal opinion is contrary to the long-standing interpretation by every administration (Republican and Democrat) since at least the 1970s."[112][113]

Interior Department employees

In June 2017, Zinke called for the elimination of 4,000 jobs from the Interior Department and supported the White House proposal to cut the department's budget by 13.4%.[114] The same month, Zinke ordered 50 Interior members of the Senior Executive Service to be reassigned, "forcing many into jobs for which they had little experience and that were in different locations."[115] The scope of the move was unusual.[116][117] One reassigned Interior senior executive, scientist Joel Clement, published an op-ed in The Washington Post saying that the reassignment was retaliation against him "for speaking out publicly about the dangers that climate change poses to Alaska Native communities."[116][118][119] The moves prompted the Interior Departments' Office of Inspector General to launch a probe.[116]

In 2017, Zinke gave a speech to the National Petroleum Council which said that one-third of Interior Department employees were disloyal to Trump and that "I got 30 percent of the crew that's not loyal to the flag." Zinke's remarks prompted objections from the Coalition to Protect America's National Parks, Public Lands Foundation and Association of Retired Fish and Wildlife Service Employees (which called the comments "simply ludicrous, and deeply insulting")[120] and Democratic Senator Maria Cantwell, the ranking member of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources (who said that Zinke had a "fundamental misunderstanding of the role" of the federal civil service).[115]

Budget proposals

In 2018, Zinke proposed budget cuts to the Interior Department for fiscal year 2019, mostly from the Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and U.S. Geological Survey. Zinke's proposed budget would also cut the Land and Water Conservation Fund to $8 million (from $425 million in 2018).[121]

2018 wildfires

In August 2018, Zinke said that "environmental terrorist groups" were to blame for the wildfires in California, and that they had "nothing to do with climate change". Fire scientists and forestry experts reject that, attributing the increasingly destructive wildfires to heat and drought caused by climate change.[122] Later that month, Zinke acknowledged that climate change did play a part in the wildfires.[123] Zinke also stated that preventing removal of dead trees has increased the amount of flammable material and hurt timber salvaging.[124]

Calendar omissions

In October 2018, FOIA requests revealed that Zinke's calendar, which was supposed to cover the Secretary of the Interior's activities, contained glaring omissions. Zinke met with lobbyists and business executives on a number of occasions.[125][126] Reporting from September 2018 noted that the calendars of Zinke's activities were "so vaguely described... that the public is unable tell what he was doing or with whom he was meeting."[127]

Departure from office

On December 15, 2018, Donald Trump announced on Twitter that Zinke would leave "the Administration at the end of the year";[128] he later tweeted that he would name the new Secretary of the Interior the following week.[129] According to The Washington Post, Zinke had submitted his resignation the same morning.[130] Zinke himself later posted a statement on Twitter, saying that "I cannot justify spending thousands of dollars defending myself and my family against false allegations…It is better for the President and Interior to focus on accomplishments rather than fictitious allegations."[131] His resignation came just a week after the announcement that former White House Chief of Staff John Kelly's departure was announced.

Zinke was facing several federal probes, including the "Montana land deal" in which a foundation of Zinke's and the chairman of energy firm Halliburton, David Lesar, were accused of wrongdoing in relation to a development project in Zinke's home town of Whitefish, Montana.[132] The DOJ also was investigating his use of personal email.[133]

In May 2020, Zinke criticized the investigations that led to his departure, stating they were politicized and that such investigations would result in only billionaires being able to afford to serve in a public office.[134]

Later career

In January 2019, Zinke began a new job as the managing director of Artillery One, a cryptocurrency investment firm founded by investor Daniel Cannon, stating that he was "going to make Artillery One great again."[135] In an interview, he stated that "I'm focused on cyber security, protection of infrastructure and emerging countries that can act as a test bed for new technologies. There is some suspicion that blockchain does not really work. We think it does and we want to showcase the utility and flexibility of the model."[136] The company is working on a test bed project in Kosovo, where Zinke served during his time in the U.S. Navy.[136] Zinke also took consulting jobs with several energy firms.[137]

2022 congressional election

See also: 2022 United States House of Representatives elections in Montana § District 1

In June 2021, Zinke officially announced his campaign for re-election to the U.S. House of Representatives. He sought election in Montana's 1st congressional district, which was reconstituted after the 2020 United States census[138][139][140] Montana had been split between two districts from 1919 to 1993, and for the past two decades had been represented by a single member.

Zinke narrowly defeated Democrat Monica Tranel to return to Congress.[141] He will represent the western third of the state, including Missoula, Butte, Bozeman, Kalispell, and his hometown of Whitefish.

Personal life

Zinke married Lolita Hand on August 8, 1992. Both had been married before; Hand was a widow with a young daughter named Jennifer.[142] He and Hand also have two children together: Wolfgang and Konrad.[143]

He splits his time among Washington, D.C.; Whitefish, Montana; and Santa Barbara, California, his wife's hometown.[143] Politico reported that Zinke no longer resides at his Whitefish house and spends more time in Santa Barbara.[144] Zinke is Missouri Synod[145] Lutheran.[146]

Electoral history

2014 Election for U.S. Representative of Montana's At-Large Congressional District
Party Candidate Votes %
Republican Ryan Zinke 203,871 55.41
Democratic John Lewis 148,690 40.41
Libertarian Mike Fellows 15,402 4.19
2016 Election for U.S. Representative of Montana's At-Large Congressional District [147]
Party Candidate Votes %
Republican Ryan Zinke (inc.) 285,358 56.19
Democratic Denise Juneau 205,919 40.55
Libertarian Rick Breckenridge 16,554 3.26
Total votes 507,831 100%

See also


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  9. ^ a b Green, Miranda (October 4, 2017). "Ryan Zinke, Golden Knights meeting under investigation". CNN.
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Montana Senate Preceded byDan Weinberg Member of the Montana Senatefrom the 2nd district 2009–2013 Succeeded byDee L. Brown U.S. House of Representatives Preceded bySteve Daines Member of the U.S. House of Representativesfrom Montana's at-large congressional district 2015–2017 Succeeded byGreg Gianforte Political offices Preceded bySally Jewell United States Secretary of the Interior 2017–2019 Succeeded byDavid Bernhardt U.S. order of precedence (ceremonial) Preceded byWilbur Rossas Former US Cabinet Member Order of precedence of the United Statesas Former US Cabinet Member Succeeded byBen Carsonas Former US Cabinet Member