An ‘Elitist’ Public-Lands Sportsman Responds to Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke

hunting public land
The author and his hunting dog.Mike Healy

Editor's Note: This is a reader response to our profile on Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke, in which Zinke said that prioritizing backcountry recreation limits public land access to "an elitist sort of hunter and fisherman."

I am conflicted. I learned today from Outdoor Life that to Mr. Secretary Ryan Zinke, I am an elitist.

I read not too far back that Mr. Secretary, on behalf of common Americans, wants to raise National Park fees, as well as accommodate larger motor coaches (I’m assuming similar to the Blue Behemoth that haunted Whitefish for the past few years), RVs, and air-cooled trailers, because the common American doesn’t camp in tents or drive station wagons anymore. I’m most comfortable sleeping in my truck or in a wall tent. According to Mr. Secretary, I am an elitist.

My wife and I have 3 vehicles…a 1997 F250, a 2002 Subaru Outback, and a 2007 Toyota Yaris, all are over or pushing 200,000 miles (oh, and a 1979 Mercedes Diesel Wagon with a busted odometer—first $3,500 takes it). According to Mr. Secretary, I am an elitist.

We live in 500 square feet, attached to an 800-square-foot shop that I built with my own two hands. A place where I turn sawdust into mortgage payments, checks for dog food, and spare folding money. According to Mr. Secretary, I am an elitist.

Our combined income has never reached six figures. According to Mr. Secretary, I am an elitist.

We hunt, gather, garden, can, smoke, dry, jelly, and pickle as much of our own food as we can. According to Mr. Secretary, I am an elitist.

I spend countless hours every month volunteering on behalf of several conservation organizations and collaborations. I send checks to folks doing good work on behalf of conservation, public access for all Americans, and public lands. When I’m flush, those checks might get to three digits. According to Mr. Secretary, I am an elitist.

I read recently that Mr. Secretary took a $12,000 private charter to fly home, (when a commercial flight is $300) on the common American’s dime, so he could speak at an event for his good friend, Mr. Fidelity. According to Mr. Secretary, I am an elitist.

When I have free time, I find where the road ends—on our unequaled public lands—and push, paddle, and portage a canoe that my wife and I built of cedar and ash cants that we milled. I take the rifle for long walks, hoping that an elk or deer finds its way into our freezer. I burn bootleather on the prairie behind a fine pack of dogs. According to Mr. Secretary, I am an elitist.

For some reason, a tune of the Green River, Paradise, and Mr. Peabody’s Coal Train is ringing in my head. I think I’ll sharpen the dumb end of a “Strike Anywhere,” pick some public land chukar out of my teeth, and ponder my new standing among the American elite. I guess it is a badge I’ll wear with honor. It is all the greedy bastards I’m worried about now.

Tom Healy is a board member of the Montana chapter of Backcountry Hunters & Anglers. He lives in Whitefish, Montana.

Read the full story on Secretary Zinke here.