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Interior secretary seeks advice

Published on February 15, 2013 3:01AM

Last changed on March 15, 2013 9:10AM

FILE - This March, 2006 file photo shows Recreational Equipment, Inc. (REI) CEO Sally Jewell at REI's Seattle flagship store.  An administration official says President Obama has plans to announce the nomination of Jewell to secretary of Interior.  (AP Photo/Scott Cohen)

Jewell FILE - This March, 2006 file photo shows Recreational Equipment, Inc. (REI) CEO Sally Jewell at REI's Seattle flagship store. An administration official says President Obama has plans to announce the nomination of Jewell to secretary of Interior. (AP Photo/Scott Cohen)


Nearly everyone has advice for Sally Jewell, President Barack Obama's choice to replace Ken Salazar as the West's landlord. As the new secretary of the Department of the Interior, Jewell will face more than just the monumental task of managing 70,000 federal employees in 50 states. She will also oversee most of the land -- and much of the water -- in the region.

The federal government owns vast tracts across the West -- 53 percent of Oregon, 45 percent of California, 50 percent of Idaho, 30 percent of Washington, 84 percent of Nevada and 69 percent of Alaska.

With the exception of national forests, which the U.S. Forest Service manages, those federal lands are under the Interior Department.

That will make Jewell -- assuming she is confirmed by the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources -- a very important person in the life of most Westerners.

Beyond managing millions of federally owned acres, she will also decide whether the four dams on the Klamath River will stay. She will oversee how the Endangered Species Act is enforced in the cases of the gray wolf, sage grouse, spotted owl and other endangered and threatened species. She will decide how federal grazing allotments are managed. She will decide whether, and how, oil and gas exploration will be undertaken on federal land.

With those issues in mind, it was interesting to see the advice offered to Jewell after Obama announced her nomination.

Cecil Andrus, the Interior secretary under President Jimmy Carter who added 103 million acres in Alaska to the nation's system of national parks and refuges, advised Jewell to "think big." The former Democratic governor of Idaho was quoted in a Seattle PI online article as urging her to designate the San Juan Islands in Washington state and the White Cloud Mountains in Idaho as national monuments. A national monument is managed by the National Park Service.

Bruce Babbitt, the Interior secretary under President Bill Clinton, wanted her to lock up more federal land and "protect" it from oil and gas development.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski, the Alaskan who is the top Republican member of the Senate Energy Committee, wanted Jewell to "restore balance to the Interior Department."

So did Rep. Doc Hastings, the Washington Republican who chairs the House Natural Resources Committee. He urged Jewell to "balance the need for both the responsible use of our nation's energy, mineral, timber and water resources and conservation."

Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., who chairs the Senate Energy Committee, offered Jewell a preview of some of the issues she faces: "I am looking forward to working with Sally on the diverse issues facing Interior: ensuring taxpayers receive full value for resources produced from federal lands, managing the renewable and natural gas energy boom to ensure it is done in an environmentally responsible manner, and finding a long-term solution to provide resource-dependent communities across the country a fair share of revenues from federal lands."

We'll bet that REI, the Washington-based outdoor equipment cooperative that Jewell has run the past eight years as CEO, sounds pretty attractive about now.

Our advice to Jewell is to Get out and talk with people, not to them. Talk with farmers, ranchers, timber operators, irrigation district managers, oil and gas developers and get their concerns firsthand, not through the lens of political action groups. Understand that in Washington, D.C., issues that are shades of gray always mutate into black and white and that many environmental groups will sue her and the department at the drop of a hat.

Compared with her predecessor, Ken Salazar, she is also an unknown. He is a Colorado native, a fifth-generation rancher, lawyer and former U.S. senator, which meant he knew his way around politics.

She was born in England -- she's now a U.S. citizen -- graduated from the University of Washington and worked a short time as an engineer for Mobil Oil before switching to banking. She then moved to REI as its chief operating officer in 2000 before jumping up to CEO five years later. She likes snowboarding, kayaking and mountain climbing.

She is well liked by the environmental community, which may have its advantages and disadvantages, and seems to be well liked by some in the oil and gas industry, which may have other advantages and disadvantages.

But for ranchers and farmers who will depend on the new Interior secretary to get a fair shake on a laundry list of Western issues such as endangered species, grazing and water, she is a blank slate.

U.S. Department of the Interior

The following agencies are within the department:

* Bureau of Indian Affairs

* Bureau of Land Management

* Bureau of Ocean Energy Management

* Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement

* Bureau of Reclamation

* National Park Service

* Office of Surface Mining

* U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

* U.S. Geological Survey


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