What does the apparent pick of U.S. Senator Ken Salazar for Interior secretary in the Obama administration mean for public lands management? Well, surely it can't be worse than what's transpired the past eight years, can it?
(I say "apparent" pick because the nomination hasn't been officially announced. Rather, the senator's name was "leaked" to the press, surely to generate some media mojo for the administration.)
Some are despairing over the Colorado Democrat's selection, wishing instead that Arizona Congressman Raul Grijalva would have gained the nod. Others are relatively happy, noting that there were lesser names in the mix, folks who might have done public lands management worse than Sen. Salazar might.
As I noted in a comment elsewhere on the Traveler, the senator comes with pluses and minuses. He was among the senators who supported a rule change to allow concealed weapons permit holders to pack in national parks and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service refuges. Does Sen. Salazar really believe that's proper, or did he take that stance merely to garner home-state support? We won't know until we see whether the Obama administration moves to rescind the rule change.
As for pluses, as director of Colorado's DNR Mr. Salazar "authored the Great Outdoors Colorado Amendment, which created a massive land conservation program of which he became chairman. Salazar also created the Youth in Natural Resources program to provide for environmental education in public schools. In his cabinet role, he established reforms that forced mining and oil operations to better protect the surrounding environment."
But then, as another commenter who read the senator's Wikipedia entry noted:
As Colorado's Attorney General, Salazar actively opposed endangered species listing of the black-tailed prairie dog, which, despite its population declines, is still listed as a "pest" by Colorado.
In 2005, Salazar voted against increasing fuel-efficiency standards (CAFE) for cars and trucks, a vote that the League of Conservation Voters notes is anti-environment. In the same year, Salazar voted against an amendment to repeal tax breaks for ExxonMobil and other major oil companies. 
In 2006, Salazar voted to end protections that limit off-shore drilling in Florida's Gulf Coast.
In 2007, Salazar was one of only a handful of Democrats to vote against a bill that would require the US Army Corps of Engineers to consider global warming when planning water projects.
According to Project Vote Smart, Ken Salazar received a 25% vote rating for 2007 by the Humane Society of the United States , a 0% vote rating for 2005-2006 for Fund for Animals , and a 60% vote rating for 2007 by Defenders of Wilderness .
And yet, Sen. Salazar has been cautious when it comes to tar sands and oil-shale exploration, something that could really impact parks in Wyoming, Utah, and Colorado.
Representative Grijalva no doubt would have been a more outspoken Interior secretary, someone who would come into office with a well-drafted agenda, but is that always the best tack to take in politics? Does the new team in Washington need to swing far to the left after the past eight years of the Bush administration swinging far to the right, or is there a deserved call to be more moderate?
Over at the National Parks Conservation Association, which understandably doesn't want to get off on the wrong foot with the 53-year-old Mr. Salazar, President Tom Kiernan had this to say about the selection:
“Ken Salazar understands that our national parks are national treasures, and his strong, demonstrated commitment to these significant places foretells his success as Secretary of the Interior.
“Sen. Salazar has been an outstanding leader in national park protection in the U.S. Senate. He has championed the strengthening of the parks’ Management Policies, advocated to address the parks’ chronic funding needs, led the introduction of the National Park Centennial Challenge, and worked to harness the educational power of our national parks for our children and grandchildren. He has also championed appropriate expansion of the National Park System.
"Our national parks will be in great hands with Ken Salazar.”
No doubt if this nomination is officially tendered, and Mr. Salazar is confirmed, there will be much scrutiny on his actions in the months ahead. And I'll wager that there will be much to applaud, and more than a little to complain about.