Opinion

Zinke, the Interior Department, and Economic Growth

Over the past few years, several national parks, monuments, and wilderness areas have been conserved by the president or Congress, including: Boulder-White Clouds in Idaho; Basin and Range in Nevada; the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks in New Mexico; Browns Canyon in Colorado; and the Castle Mountains, Mojave Trails, and Sand-to-Snow national monuments in the California desert. During that same period, there were significant bipartisan efforts to fund and authorize the Land & Water Conservation Fund permanently, which uses oil and gas fees instead of taxpayer dollars to protect parks and public lands. One of the Republican co-sponsors of this bipartisan effort, Congressman Ryan Zinke of Montana, is now President-Elect Donald Trump’s nominee to be secretary of the Interior.

As entrepreneurs and venture capitalists, we welcomed the designation of these monuments because they protect breathtaking features of the American landscape, natural habitats for wildlife, and historic and cultural treasures. We also support the protection of national public lands and state and local parks and trails via adequate, consistent funding for the LWCF because of the economic opportunities parks help to inspire among entrepreneurial companies throughout the country.

Permanent protection for accessible, national public lands means that our companies’ employees — especially in the American West — enjoy access to mountain biking, hiking, camping, hunting and fishing, and other outdoor activities that help them maintain a work-life balance, recharge, and boost their creativity.

Strong and consistent funding of our federal, state, and local parks provide venues for our portfolio companies to engage in team-building exercises in the outdoors, to host employee family events there, and to encourage employees to experience the spectacular landscapes that provide inspiration they then bring back to work with them. In this sense, conservation isn’t just good for business growth — it actually fuels innovation essential to American companies competing in the global economy.

We’ve seen firsthand that successful, driven employees, especially in the tech sector, place a high value on outdoor recreation, making proximity to national parks and monuments a major selling point for companies that want to recruit the best and brightest employees — a critical requirement for success. The examples abound in Zinke’s home state of Montana, including Sen. Steve Daines’ (R-Mont.) own former software employer, which advertised the outdoor wonders of Montana to prospective employees on billboards outside Yellowstone National Park.

As investors, we know that national parks and other public lands are essential to the bottom line of our companies, and the growth of our economy. In a joint interview with Field & Stream last year, the president-elect and his son, Donald Trump Jr., addressed the issue. As Donald Trump Jr. said, our public lands are “about being able to get in there and enjoy the outdoors and enjoy those great traditions that are … so much the foundation of America … and making sure those lands are maintained properly; making sure they’re not going into private hands to be effectively walled off to the general public.”

And the president-elect himself said: “I don’t like the idea [of transferring federal lands to the states] because I want to keep the lands great, and you don’t know what the state is going to do. I mean, are they going to sell if they get into a little bit of trouble? And I don’t think it’s something that should be sold. We have to be great stewards of this land.”

We are concerned about some of Rep. Zinke’s previous positions opposing national monument designations and responsible energy development and his most recent vote for a House Rules package that would make it much easier to seize and sell off national public lands to the states. These prior positions of the nominee will need to go by the wayside if he is confirmed to serve in the new administration. Our national public lands must be protected from rampant development by “private hands” and instead, accessible to all. To do so is not only important to our nation’s entrepreneurial spirit and innovation economy, it is our responsibility to safeguard our nation’s treasures as stewards of our grand heritage.

 

Pfund and Baruch are Co-Chairs of the Conservation for Economic Growth Coalition, an advocacy group made up of founders of fast-growing entrepreneurial companies and venture capitalists.  Pfund is the Founder and Man­ag­ing Part­ner of DBL Investors, a ven­ture cap­i­tal firm located in San Fran­cisco; Baruch is a long-time venture capitalist in Silicon Valley.

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