WASHINGTON, March 1, 2017 - The Senate confirmed Montana Rep. Ryan Zinke as Interior Secretary, putting him in charge of managing 400 million acres of Western lands, much of that critical to ranchers and energy interests, and enforcing the Endangered Species Act. 

The Senate approved his nomination, 68-31. Sixteen Democrats and one independent, Angus King of Maine, joined Republicans in voting for Zinke. Zinke was sworn in by Vice President Mike Pence Wednesday evening.

Zinke, 55, is a former Navy SEAL and avid outdoorsman who won quick support from wildlife groups because of his record of opposing the transfer of federal lands to states and local governments. He later seemed to muddle his position a bit by voting for a House rules change that would make it easier for Congress to turn over federal acreage. 

Zinke’s Democratic  supporters included Sen. Jon Tester of Montana who is up for re-election in 2018 and had been bracing for a challenge from Zinke before President Trump nominated him to head the Interior Department. 

Interior includes the Bureau of Land Management, which oversees more than 245 million acres  of land, mostly in the West, as well as the Fish and Wildlife Service, the National Park Service, Bureau of Reclamation, and Bureau of Indian Affairs. The BLM and Fish and Wildlife Service are especially important to agriculture because of the grazing lands BLM manages and Fish and Wildlife Service’s responsibility for enforcing the Endangered Species Act and managing national wildlife refuges. 

During his Senate confirmation hearing, Zinke pledged to work to restore public confidence in land management agencies. “I fully recognize that there is distrust, anger, and even hatred against some federal management policies,” he said. “Being a listening adversary rather than a deaf adversary is a good start.”

He said he supported full funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which is used to purchase public lands, and assured the senators that he was “absolutely against transfer or sale of public land.” 

Craig Uden, president of the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, said Zinke’s confirmation was “great news for America’s ranchers and cattle producers.” Zinke “has an outstanding record advocating for Western communities and ranchers, and for the real inclusion of stakeholders’ voices in the decisions that affect them.”

Dale Hall, CEO of Ducks Unlimited, said that “as a hunter, angler and conservationist himself, Zinke is a smart choice as the leader for our natural resources. We look forward to working with the secretary to help conserve some of our nation’s most critical wetlands habitat for waterfowl and other wildlife.”

Jim Matheson, CEO of the National Association of Rural Electric Cooperatives, said electric co-ops know Zinke well. “We look forward to working with Secretary Zinke to protect our natural resources while allowing co-ops to continue empowering their 42 million consumers."