U.S. Representative Ryan Zinke is in line to be the next Secretary of the Interior. He will be in charge of the National Park Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife, and Bureau of Land Management among many other responsibilities. Though he hasn’t gotten the media attention of other Trump nominees, he’ll have a great impact on public lands, including those in Western North Carolina.
Here’s what I’d like to let Rep. Zinke know:
* I’ve read that you’re a big hunter and angler. You’re an outdoor person and that’s a huge advantage right here. You understand that outdoor pursuits can only be done on public lands and you’re going to manage a lot of acreage.
* Before I ask you to safeguard our public lands, I want to encourage you to get out there and experience them. You’ve probably seen Yellowstone and Yosemite National Parks. However, have you visited Stones National Battlefield in Tennessee, which has the first Civil War memorial?
Go to Cowpens National Battlefield in South Carolina where American Patriots trounced the British, the best world army in the world at the time.
Hike in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the most visited national park in the nation. In 2016, 11,312,785 came to the Smokies. You should as well!
* Please understand that national park units, all 417 of them, not only protect and preserve wild land but also artifacts, battlefields, homes and building. That takes money. The National Park Service budget has shrunk from one-eighth of 1 percent of the overall federal budget to one-16th of 1 percent – from 0.125% to 0.0625%. Those are very small numbers.
* The National Park Service also interprets its holdings. If visitors just saw Wright Brothers National Monument on the North Carolina coast, they would think that it’s a field of grass, no different from a piece of land in their neighborhood. So what!
It’s only because the National Park Service explains that in 1903 the Wright Brothers managed to get a plane in the air for the first time twelve seconds. The day’s last flight was fifty-nine seconds – an almost five times improvements.
* All lands need protection. But that takes money, money that you’re going to have to get from Congress. Our public lands need to be primarily supported by public taxes. We can’t depend on entrance fees, as important as that infusion has become. Besides, so many parks and wildlife refuges don’t charge. Friends groups are vital to our lands, but again, our government has to support our lands.
* Speaking of hiking, (and kayaking and birding), use your imagination and your energy to do something memorable your first year. You’re first and foremost an administrator who will manage over 70,000 people. But that doesn’t preclude actually using the land and setting a good example.
Last year, Cassius Clay, Superintendent of Great Smoky Mountains National Park, hiked a hundred miles in the Smokies with various groups for the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service. In so doing, he inspired 2,200 others to do the same and keep records.
I challenge you to find something of your own:
Visit and hike in several national parks in each NPS region, find an endemic bird in each region or experience at least one park unit for each war that the United States has fought.
In other words, get out there!