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Montana’s Republican Congressman Ryan Zinke rolled through Bozeman in his campaign bus for a donor luncheon and an hour at Simms Fishing Products on Wednesday to talk with people from eight local businesses about the role of public lands in the state’s economy.

Zinke has been basking in the praise of outdoor recreation advocates since voting last week against the joint budget resolution that passed the House 226-197. Zinke was one of 14 House Republicans who joined all 183 Democrats in voting against the resolution.

“I wanted to make sure to thank you for your recent vote on a budget resolution... We commend you on being a leader in the House for doing that,” Marne Hayes, director of Business for Montana’s Outdoors, told Zinke. “We will continue to be encouraged to work with you on public lands issues.”

The group represents 115 businesses in Montana that employ about 3,000 people, she said. Their message is that Montana’s outdoor assets create jobs and should be protected as is.

“The Senate put a provision in there that spoke to selling or transferring public lands,” Zinke told them. “And to me, that’s a non starter ... in Montana, our public lands are part of our heritage.” He also said he supported reauthorization of the Land and Water Conservation Fund and that it will pass Congress with a few changes.

Zinke’s position against a federal land transfer clashes with the Montana GOP’s policy platform, which supports “granting federally managed public lands to the states.” Zinke’s stance has made tea partyers in Montana unhappy.

In a social media post, state Sen. Jennifer Fielder, R-Thompson Falls, criticized Zinke for voting against the resolution. Fielder, along with Bozeman Republican Rep. Kerry White, proposed public land transfer legislation earlier this year. Only one bill passed after being watered down, but even it was vetoed by Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock.

Politics makes strange bedfellows. The Montana Democratic Party, which attacked Zinke during the campaign as a candidate who would sell Montana’s public lands, is also criticizing Zinke’s vote. In a recent email to reporters, Democratic Party spokesman Bryan Watt called it a “desperate attempt to get right with Montana sportsmen and women.”

Zinke told the outdoor businesspeople he is a moderate Republican, who is a “reasonable conservationist.”

He said it will be independent voters who will decide whether to keep him in Washington, D.C., in 2016. No one has registered to challenge Zinke in the coming election, Republican or Democrat.

Greg Findley, the CEO of Detour, an adventure travel company, asked Zinke, a supporter of coal mining in Montana, what his view was on climate change.

Zinke said yes, the climate is changing, it’s always changing, and that the degree of human influence is unknown. “Something is going on. And so I think you need to be prudent, but it doesn’t mean you need to be destructive on fossil fuels ... on Colstrip, when we had those fires in Rosebud County a few years ago, that one fire season admitted the same amount of particulate as running Colstrip for 3,000 years.”

Pete Strom — owner of La Parilla, The Garage Soup Shack, and Powerhouse ICS — challenged Zinke’s comparison.

“That comes out of the air a lot faster. It’s a different kind of particulate,” Strom said. Zinke pushed past without engaging. “That’s 3,000 years. It’s a lot,” Zinke said. “And so I think we need to be prudent.”

During a short ride between Simms and the campaign event, Zinke recalled fishing with his stepfather at Hungry Horse Dam near Kalispell and how he had learned to fish wet flies on the Madison River last fall. He rated himself a “decent, plus” cast with a fly rod.

“But my first fish was probably a sun fish off a pond,” he laughed.

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Troy Carter can be reached at 582-2630 or He’s on Twitter at @cartertroy.


Troy Carter covers politics and county government for the Chronicle.

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