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Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke alongside his wife Lolita Zinke appear at the NRA's annual convention in April. [Scott Olson/Getty Images]

National Rifle Association

Leaked Parks Department Memo Raises Questions about the NRA’s Relationship With the Interior Department

The gun group's top lobbyist described Ryan Zinke’s appointment to the agency as “the end of a hostile era towards hunters and sportsmen.”

The National Park Service raised serious concerns in late June over a bill backed by the National Rifle Association, but they were disregarded entirely by the agency’s overseer, the Department of the Interior.

According to a memo obtained by McClatchy, the NPS’s acting director, Michael Reynolds, pushed back against provisions that would prohibit his agency from managing commercial and recreational fishing within park parameters. He also objected to language that would prevent the NPS from giving input on certain development projects, and regulating the hunting of bears and wolves in Alaska wildlife preserves.

Interior’s response to the memo was less than accommodating. Casey Hammond, a political appointee of President Donald Trump, simply crossed out Reynolds’ comments. NPS officials were later ordered to not voice their issues to Congress, according to Jeff Ruch, the executive director of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, who provided a copy of the memo to McClatchy.

The NRA has sought to align itself closely with Interior officials. The gun rights group forcefully advocated for Ryan Zinke, a Montana Congressman, to lead the department when he was nominated by President Trump. After he was confirmed by the Senate, the NRA called the appointment “good news for gun owners.” Chris Cox, the organization’s top lobbyist, hailed the start of Zinke’s tenure as “the end of a hostile era towards hunters and sportsmen.”

In May, the relationship between the department and the NRA appeared to grow closer. That month, Susan LaPierre, the wife of Wayne LaPierre, the NRA’s chief executive officer, was appointed by Zinke to the Board of Directors of the National Park Foundation, the charitable wing of the Park Service. The appointment wasn’t formally announced, but Susan LaPierre posted about it on her Facebook page.

“Last Thursday, I had a true ‘mountaintop moment’ as I met with Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke to accept my newest role: serving on the Board of Directors of the National Park Foundation,” she wrote. “As a commissioned Board member appointed by Secretary Zinke, I join a distinguished group of national leaders and conservationists.”

The post, sent to The Trace by a source close to the NRA, included four pictures: three of her with Zinke, and one with Cox. 

According to the memo obtained by McClatchy, Reynolds argued that the park service should be allowed to restrict some practices in national preserves that Alaska allows elsewhere, such as killing bear cubs with the aid of artificial lights in their dens. He also argued against language that would prevent national parks from setting stricter standards for lead content in ammunition than states have established.