Interior Nominee Ryan Zinke:

Interior Nominee Ryan Zinke:

Identifies with Theodore Roosevelt, notes differences between John Muir's and Gifford Pinchot's approach for managing federal lands

 

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Ryan Zinke is the first navy seal to be elected to Congress. He has only served one term, and may soon be confirmed as Secretary of the Interior. American Rivers has posted some interesting insight on Zinke's record.

On January 17, Congressman Ryan Zinke, President Trump's nominee for Secretary of the Interior, appeared before the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources. In his opening statement, Zinke first identified himself as an admirer of Theodore Roosevelt, then squarely addressed the fundamental dichotomy between the John Muir and Gifford Pinchot models as to how federal lands should be managed. 

Mr. Zinke has clearly done his homework. When San Francisco proposed to build a dam in Yosemite National Park's Hetch Hetchy Valley, Roosevelt was torn by the contrasting opinions of two close confidantes - naturalist John Muir and forester Gifford Pinchot. The Muir-Pinchot conflict was central not only to the debate over Hetch Hetchy in 1913 but also to the subsequent decision to establish the National Park Service three years later. 

Pinchot, head of the United States Forest Service,  espoused land management policies that provided "the greatest good, for the greatest number, for the longest run." He had limited regard for "scenery" and supported damming Hetch Hetchy, even though it had been protected as part of Yosemite National Park.

Muir well understood the need to use land for material purposes - after all, he was a shepherd, a sawmill worker and a farmer at different times in his life. But he believed some special landscapes needed to be wholly protected from development. When the subject of building a dam in Yosemite came up, Muir was not subtle, writing "Dam Hetch Hetchy! As well dam for water-tanks the people's cathedrals and churches, for no holier temple has ever been consecrated by the heart of man."

 

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Roosevelt initially sided with Muir, then wavered after the earthquake and fire devastated San Francisco in 1906. He allowed his Secretary of the Interior, James R. Garfield, to sign a permit for San Francisco to build a dam. 

(The "Garfield" permit was subsequently revoked under President Taft. San Francisco then pursued and received Congressional authorization in 1913 after the election of President Wilson, who did not seem to share the passion for Yosemite shown by his predecessors.) 

It is easy to side with Muir Today - no one would even think of damming an iconic glacier carved valley in Yosemite. Some places are simply so special that we need to protect them regardless of commercial opportunities.

Ironically, while Pinchot's "the greatest good for the greatest number" maxim might have been a credible excuse for damming Hetch Hetchy 100 years ago, it certainly cannot be applied today 

 

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Zinke's Senate hearing was smoother than most, so it seems likely that he will be confirmed as Secretary of the Interior. Under what circumstances will Zinke employ John Muir's model for protecting public lands and when will he favor Gifford Pinchot's approach?

 

Restore Hetch Hetchy's legal petition, filed on John Muir's birthday in 2015, alleges that Hetch Hetchy would be more valuable as a valley than it is as a reservoir. In other words, we are arguing Gifford Pinchot's view as a "practical conservationist".  

In the 21st century, with our contemporary appreciation for the natural world as well as modern advances in water system management, there is no difference between the Muir and Pinchot models when it comes to Hetch Hetchy. Restoration will indeed provide "the greatest good for the greatest number in the long run".