Born and raised in the concrete jungle of Manhattan, President-elect Donald Trump’s children have taken an outsized interest in the search for an Interior secretary, sources close to the transition say, especially avid hunter Donald Trump Jr.
In fact, one transition source said balancing the Trump siblings’ natural inclinations toward conservation has been a key factor in the search for someone to run the Interior Department, which manages lands, wildlife, national parks and Native American affairs in its broad portfolio.
That disposition sometimes clashes against some other traditionally conservative positions on issues under Interior, including opposition to enforcing positions under the Endangered Species Act and decreasing acquisition and management of public lands.
The influence of Trump Jr.’s hunting passion and conservationist ways has heavily favored Western State candidates in the search, with Washington Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers being the leading contender for the job, according to multiple sources familiar with the discussions.
Trump Jr. is a regular member of the Boone and Crockett Club, a hunting and wildlife conservation organization co-founded by Theodore Roosevelt in 1887. Club chief of staff Tony Schoonen confirmed to CNN that Trump Jr. is one of the 100 regular members of the group, all of whom are vetted and voted on by the other members, and are “individuals of influence in the worlds of science, education, industry, and politics.” Trump Jr. is the youngest member voted in.
Schoonen stressed that members are independent conservationists and speak for themselves, but the mission statement of the club is to promote the conservation of big game and its habitat.
Representatives of the Trump Organization and the President-elect’s transition team didn’t respond to a request for comment on this story.
Hunting has also embroiled Trump Jr. and his brother, Eric, in controversy. In 2012, pictures surfaced of them posing with big game trophies in Africa, including an elephant and leopard, drawing condemnation from liberal groups and suggestions that they had hunted illegally. It was confirmed later, however, that their hunt had been entirely above board.
In addition to being part of the Boone and Crockett club, Trump Jr.’s hunting passion has given him opportunities to engage with politicians around the country, including Western lawmakers like Sen. Steve Daines, a Republican from the club’s headquarters state of Montana.
Daines has been hunting with Trump Jr. and Trump Jr.’s son, according to a source familiar with their relationship, and Daines has expressed to Trump Jr. and transition officials that a Westerner for Interior would be ideal to understand policies that protect a way of life that is about conservation and protecting land for uses including hunting, the source said.
Trump Jr. said in an interview shortly after the election with online hunting and fishing publication Wide Open Spaces that he even lived in Colorado bartending for 18 months after college so he could hunt and fish. And he said he would be actively engaged in issues of Interior.
“The big joke at Christmas this year was that the only job in government that I would want is with the Department of Interior,” Trump Jr. told Wide Open Spaces. “I understand these issues. It’s something I’m passionate about. I will be the very loud voice about these issues in my father’s ear. No one gets it more than us.”
In the interview, Trump Jr. spoke in favor of maintaining public lands under federal control, so states can’t sell the land to private buyers who would block of the land from public use.
That’s in line with the positions espoused by Boone and Crockett club, which are sometimes at odds with Beltway Republican views on Interior.
While Boone and Crockett isn’t solely politically focused, as an active sportsman’s organization, it has spent $15,000 to $20,000 quarterly in recent years on lobbying in Washington, mainly around sportsmen, conservation and forestry bills, according to federal disclosures.
An extensive listing of position statements on the club’s website show tempered positions, but political views that prioritize conservation of lands and wildlife (including for hunting), promotion of sustainability in human practices and that value clean energy sources and reduction of carbon emissions as a potential contributing factor to climate change. Protecting fair-chase hunting is an overriding mission throughout Boone and Crockett’s positions.
In contrast, a policy recommendation report from The Heritage Foundation, which is heavily advising the President-elect’s transition effort, advocates for the Trump administration to reform the Department of Interior to reduce management of public lands, not enforce the Endangered Species Act and eliminate conservation funds.
Western Republicans are seen as the best candidates to balance conservative limited government ideals with the diverse needs of land in the US, according to sources vouching for them. Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin had been an early contender for Interior, but has fallen out of favor with Trump Tower for the role, sources say. Part of that is likely the selection of Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt to lead EPA, to avoid having too many Oklahomans in the Cabinet.
A source familiar with Daines’ thinking also said he would be more inclined to support McMorris Rodgers over Fallin, as she’s used to balancing the issues Westerners face on land management.
Ivanka Trump, who has a heavy influence on her father and has expressed a desire to work on policy isssues of personal importance as first daughter, has also met Daines — and already has a working relationship with McMorris Rodgers.
The highest ranking GOP woman in Congress, McMorris Rodgers worked with Ivanka on her plan for maternity leave and child care coverage.
While Ivanka’s role in the Interior selection process is less clear, she has seemed to take an interest in climate issues, meeting with prominent climate change advocate and former Democratic Vice President Al Gore this week. Gore also met with the President-elect while visiting Trump Tower.
Still, Pruitt’s selection as EPA administrator, with Pruitt’s long history of fighting the EPA on climate regulations and doubt over climate science, has left watchers curious as to the impact of meetings with Gore and fellow climate change activist Leonardo DiCaprio this week.
Westerners are uniquely suited to balance environmentalism and human economic needs, said Idaho-based Republican political strategist Todd Cranney.
“The frustration that Westerners have is these definitions — that you can’t be for the environment and a Republican,” Cranney said. “People don’t understand, there’s no bigger environmentalist than a farmer and rancher, because it’s their livelihood.”
Cranney said for Westerners, balancing the needs of the environment and the public is a “way of life,” one that bureaucrats or policy thinkers only from the East wouldn’t necessarily understand.
In interviews, Trump Jr. has said his love for the outdoors started at a young age, spending weeks with his grandfather in the Czech Republican at his cabin in the woods. And he said hunting has fed his conservationist ways.
“If you wait through long, cold hours in the November woods with a bow in your hands hoping a buck will show or if you spend days walking in the African bush trailing Cape buffalo while listening to lions roar, you’re sure to learn hunting isn’t about killing,” Trump Jr. said in a Forbes interview in 2012. “Nature actually humbles you. Hunting forces a person to endure, to master themselves, even to truly get to know the wild environment. Actually, along the way, hunting and fishing makes you fall in love with the natural world. This is why hunters so often give back by contributing to conservation.”