Montanans react to Zinke confirmation


KALISPELL, Mont. - Ryan Zinke is no longer Montana's U.S. Representative, he's the nation's Secretary of Interior.

It's an important position, especially here in Montana. Zinke will be in charge of about 500 million acres of the nation's public land, including about 27 million in Montana.

Nearly four months after being nominated Zinke will be the first Montanan to serve in a presidential cabinet.

But do Montanans know what the Secretary of the Interior does?

"No," Flathead resident Kayla Crum said. "No, our teacher told us that he's never really heard of that."

"No, really I don't. And that's a shame; I'm almost 68 years old. I think I better go look it up," Flathead resident Cassandra Thommen said.

Zinke will be in charge of almost all public lands, and that adds up to about a fifth of the country's total land.

He'll also oversee wildlife refuges, tribal lands, areas ripe for energy development and the biggest tourism attraction in Flathead County -- Glacier National Park -- along with the nation's entire Park Service.

We went to the park to find out what officials think about the confirmation.

"He sees it from three different viewpoints. He grew up in Whitefish, right on the doorstep here at Glacier National Park, so he sees it as a visitor to the park. As a legislator, he sees it from the viewpoint of a state legislator and now a national legislator," Glacier National Park Deputy Superintendent Eric Smith said.

When we spoke with the National Parks Conservation Association they said they're concerned about Zinke's past voting record.

"If we look at Zinke's voting record on issues like BLM's authority to deal with methane gas releases on federal lands, we're a little bit concerned about some of the votes that the secretary took," the group's Northern Rockies regional director, Bart Melton, said.

We checked some of those voting records. Zinke's career scorecard from the League of Conservation voters is 4 percent. But on another occasion he was the lone Republican to support a Democratic amendment for a land and water conservation fund.

Now that's in the past, and we'll see what future policies the new secretary will implement.

The ball is now rolling for a special election to replace Zinke.?