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Montana politics, elections and legislative news

Zinke Votes Yes On Lands Transfer Rules Change

U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke file photo.

The U.S. House took a vote related to public lands yesterday that has Democrats and conservation groups crying foul.

It’s part of a larger rules package that would change how Congress calculates the value of federal public lands when it comes to transferring them to states.

Right now, lawmakers have to take into account the value of revenue public lands bring in, like from grazing or mineral leases, and subtract that from government revenue if they want to transfer federal lands to states.

The rules change would eliminate that accounting, and say that land transfers are budget neutral.

Montana Congressman Ryan Zinke voted for the rules package. He declined an interview request, and his office issued a six-word reply: "Ryan Zinke’s position has not changed."

Zinke has repeatedly stated his opposition to the sale or transfer of public lands ownership to states. But in June Zinke did vote for a House bill that would allow state leaders to manage some federal parcels as demonstration projects.

Zinke is President-elect Donald Trump’s pick for secretary of Interior, pending Senate confirmation hearings.

Following the House vote, Montana’s Republican Senator Steve Daines said, "I continue to strongly oppose the transfer of federal lands to the states while fighting to improve the management of those lands."

Democratic Senator Jon Tester called the move, "an underhanded assault on Montana’s outdoor economy."

Both the Montana Wilderness Association and Backcountry Hunters and Anglers expressed strong opposition to the House vote on the proposed rules change.

Eric Whitney is NPR's Mountain West/Great Plains Bureau Chief, and was the former news director for Montana Public Radio.
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