HELENA – A public lands group has launched a $1.4 million ad campaign in Montana, targeting U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, urging him to recommend no changes in two dozen national monuments.
The sizable TV, radio and online ad campaign from Missoula-based Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, launched last week, is solely in Montana – home to the Interior secretary and former Montana congressman.
“We felt it was pretty important to put a bunch of resources specifically into this campaign, in order to try to influence a beneficial outcome for national monuments,” the group’s conservation director, John Gale, told MTN News this week. “It’s our hope that this ad campaign … yields having these wonderful wild places left alone, as they are.”
Zinke, appointed by President Trump to lead the Interior Department, will recommend later this month whether any changes should be made to 22 national monuments designated within the past 21 years.
Trump ordered the review in April, calling some monument designations a “massive land grab” by the federal government.
Included in the initial review was designation of the Upper Missouri River Breaks National Monument in Montana. However, Zinke announced last week that the Montana monument would be unchanged by the review.
Nearly all of the monuments under review are in the West.
A spokeswoman for Zinke said Tuesday he is “dedicated to ensuring all voices are heard in this process,” has visited several monuments under review and is meeting with people on all sides of the issue. In fact, he recently hiked with members of Backcountry Hunters and Anglers and others at a New Mexico wilderness area, she said.
The primary TV ad in Backcountry Hunters and Anglers’ campaign features the group’s Montana chapter chair, John Sullivan, saying that “public lands are for everyone.”
The ad then calls out Zinke for saying he wants to be a conservationist like former President Theodore Roosevelt yet then putting “our public lands at risk” with the monument review.
“Make no mistake: Zinke’s national monument review threatens our heritage and thousands of jobs,” the ad intones. “Mr. Secretary, don’t turn your back on Roosevelt now.”
When asked why the ad targets Zinke, rather than President Trump, who ordered the monument review, Gale said Zinke is the one who must make recommendations to the president.
“(Zinke) is probably the most important part of this equation and the most critical link to ensuring that our national monuments are left alone and their integrity is not compromised in any way,” Gale said.
Backcountry Hungers and Anglers, headquartered in Missoula, is a nonprofit group that says it has 13,000 members nationwide.
Its annual report lists nearly $2 million in revenue last year, funded by individual donors, membership dues and foundations. Foundations that support the group include the Pew Charitable Trusts, Conservation Alliance and Cinnabar Foundation.
Gale said the group lists its donors in the annual report, but relies heavily on active members in states across the country.
“It’s a grassroots organization that was literally founded from the campfire up,” he said. “We call it `boots on the ground.’”