Where does this leave the Wild Horses & Burros?
President Obama on Wednesday will nominate Recreational Equipment Inc. (REI) chief executive Sally Jewell to head the Interior Department, according to a White House official who asked not to be identified because the public announcement has not yet been made.
The choice of Jewell — who began her career as an engineer for Mobil Oil Corp. and worked as a commercial banker before heading a nearly $2 billion outdoors equipment company — represents an unconventional choice for a post usually reserved for career politicians from the West.
But while she boasts less public policy experience than other candidates who had been under consideration, Jewell — who will have to be confirmed by the Senate — has earned national recognition for her management skills and support for outdoor recreation and habitat conservation.
In 2011 Jewell introduced Obama at the White House conference on “America’s Great Outdoor Initiative,” noting that the $289 billion outdoor-recreation industry supports 6.5 million jobs.
Jewell, who is being nominated to succeed Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, would take over at a time when many conservationists are pressing Obama to take bolder action on land conservation. Salazar devoted much of his tenure to both promoting renewable energy on public land and managing the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill.
On Tuesday former Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt gave a speech at the National Press Club calling on the president to set aside one acre permanently for conservation for every acre he leases for oil and gas development.
“It’s that simple: one to one,” Babbitt said. “So far, under President Obama, industry has been winning the race as it obtains more and more land for oil and gas. Over the past four years, the industry has leased more than 6 million acres, compared with only 2.6 million acres permanently protected. In the Obama era, land conservation is again falling behind.”
Facing congressional opposition and budget constraints during Obama’s first term, Salazar emphasized the importance of enlisting private sector, state and local support to protect major landscapes through America’s Great Outdoors Initiative. Jewell emerged as a strong advocate of the policy, and is likely to continue such efforts.
While public lands protection has traditionally enjoyed bipartisan support, this issue has become increasingly polarized, and the 112th Congress was the first one since 1966 to fail to designate a single piece of wilderness. Environmentalists such as Babbitt have urged Obama to use the Antiquities Act, which gives presidents the executive authority to set aside land as national monuments to protect ecologically valuable areas in the West.
Jewell has pushed for land conservation both in Washington state, where she lives, as well as nationally. She is a founding board member of the Mountains to Sound Greenway Trust, which focuses on a stretch of land spanning from Puget Sound across the Cascades, and helped lay out a plan for the National Park Service as a commissioner on the “National Parks Second Century Commission.”
While Jewell is more closely identified with the Democratic Party than the GOP, she made a high-profile appearance with Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) back in 2008 when he was running for president. McCain spoke with Jewell and others at an environmental policy roundtable outside of Seattle, during which the senator argued he had stronger environmental credentials than either Obama or Hillary Rodham Clinton, who were both vying for the Democratic presidential nomination at the time.
Other contenders for the cabinet position in recent weeks included former Washington Gov. Christine Gregoire (D), Interior deputy secretary David Hayes and Sen. Tom Udall (D-N.M.).