On March 1, 2017, the Senate confirmed Rep. Ryan Zinke (R-Mont.) as Secretary of the Interior in a 68-31 bipartisan vote. He was sworn into the Cabinet later that day by Vice President Mike Pence. Zinke was able to attract 16 Democratic votes, with Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Or.) stating that he believes Zinke “will focus on doing his job, which includes protecting our special places and managing the forests already within the Interior Department’s control, instead of engaging in senseless reorganization of bureaucracies.” Senate Energy and Natural Resources Chairwoman Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) stated that she was “hopeful” that Zinke’s confirmation “will mark the start of a new era for the Department of the Interior that is defined by greater cooperation with Congress, the states, and the local residents affected by its decisions.”
Zinke, a former Navy SEAL, has already laid out his three main priorities as Secretary: (1) address the National Park Service’s $12.5 billion deferred maintenance backlog; (2) increase employee morale and ensure that employees have the proper tools, resources, and flexibility to do their jobs; and (3) ensure that tribal sovereignty “mean[s] something.” Zinke has also indicated that he is opposed to selling off federal lands, stating: “I have absolutely and unequivocally opposed any attempts to transfer, sell, or privatize our public lands, and serving as their top steward is not a job I take lightly …. I approach this job in the same way that Boy Scouts taught me so long ago: leave the campsite in better condition than I found it.”
It also appears that Zinke is committed to upholding Federal ethics rules, writing in an email to Interior employees that “our understanding and observance of Federal ethics rules are essential to maintaining [the public’s] trust and carrying out our mission.”
At the invitation of the National Park Service’s Park Police, Zinke arrived to his first day of work riding an Irish sport horse named Tonto. Zinke changed into a suit and tie before attending his first meeting.