Zinke to speak at Western Conservative Summit, after private appearance at ALEC

Author: Joey Bunch - July 20, 2017 - Updated: July 20, 2017

Ryan ZinkeInterior Secretary Ryan Zinke enjoys a horseback ride in the Bears Ears National Monument with local and state representatives in Blanding, Utah. Native American tribes and environmental groups preparing a legal battle to stop President Donald Trump from dismantling Utah’s new national monument will face a tougher challenge than anticipated. (Scott G Winterton/The Deseret News via AP, File)

The Trump administration is coming through, after all, at the Western Conservative Summit this weekend in Denver, and in a huge way. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke will speak at the mega-gathering of the country’s top conservatives at the Colorado Convention Center Friday.

On Monday Jeff Hunt, the director of the Centennial Institute, which puts on the annual gathering, lamented the lack of White House participation, given the ample stage the event has provided for Trump and other members of his inner circle in the past. Trump himself opened the event last year while he was a candidate.

Zinke is the key Cabinet member over national parks and other public lands, a major issue in Colorado and across the West.

He also is taking part in the American Legislative Exchange Council at the Hyatt Regency in Denver, but his office said Thursday his participation is not open to the press. Saturday Zinke is expected to tour Rocky Mountain National Park, where he will talk to credentialed reporters that morning in Estes Park.

Before he was tapped by President Trump to lead the agency once led by Colorado’s Ken Salazar, Zinke was a congressman from Montana and a former state senator.

Conservation Colorado, the state’s largest environmental organization, is wary of Zinke and the Trump administration’s view of public lands, particularly turning them over to the states and to allow more drilling and development.

His private participation with ALEC, an industry supported nonprofit that helps draft legislation and train legislators, “speaks volumes about the Interior secretary’s priorities,” Jessica Goad, spokeswoman for Conservation Colorado, said in an e-mail exchange with Colorado Politics. “Virtually every decision he’s made since becoming secretary is targeted at taking the public out of public lands decisions.”

As examples, she cited his canceling resource advisory councils, “a primary venue for representatives from Western communities to give feedback and input.”

He also led the Trump administration’s repeal of the Bureau of Land Management’s Planning 2.0 initiative to make decisions around public lands more efficient with extra feedback from local communities.

His review on national monuments, requested by Trump, is “making a mockery of the hard work local communities have invested to protect lands for future generations,” Goad said.

“So, the question is, is Secretary Zinke’s presence at ALEC an indication that his commitment to ‘keeping public lands public’ is nothing more than a nice talking point and political smoke and mirrors?” she asked.

We don’t know. The press is locked out.

“So far, his actions as Interior secretary have indicated that his focus is on cutting the public out of the decision,” Goad said.

Joey Bunch

Joey Bunch

Joey Bunch is the senior political correspondent for Colorado Politics. He has a 31-year career in journalism, including the last 15 in Colorado. He was part of the Denver Post team that won the Pulitzer Prize in 2013 and is a two-time Pulitzer finalist. His resume includes covering high school sports, the environment, the casino industry and civil rights in the South, as well as a short stint at CNN.