What's the Latest On The Search for An Interior Secretary?

Would John Berry, head of the National Zoo, be a good choice for Interior secretary? Smithsonian Institution photo.

As cabinet post after cabinet post is filled by the incoming Obama administration, one role key to the national parks remains up-in-the-air: that of Interior secretary.

Names have been tossed all over the place since the November election. For instance, names that have surfaced have included Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.; U.S. Rep. Norm Dicks, a Democrat from Washington state who long has been an ally of the National Park Service; Sally Jewell, the CEO of Recreation Equipment, Inc. (aka REI); former Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber; U.S. Rep. Jay Inslee, another Democrat from the Evergreen State; New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, who early on ran for the Democratic presidential nomination; Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer, who just was re-elected; U.S. Rep. George Miller of California; U.S. Sen. Ken Salazar of Colorado; and U.S. Rep. Raul Grijalva of Arizona.

Of course, you can cross Bill Richardson off the list, as he's been nominated as Commerce secretary. And Norm Dicks apparently wants to stay in Congress. While there's much support for Mr. Grijalva, some think he's not likely to get the job because Team Obama already has plucked Arizona's governor, Janet Napolitano, as his choice to head Homeland Security, and so the incoming administration won't want to take another high-ranking politician from Arizona.

One name that has been floating under the radar, relatively, is that of John Berry. Mr. Berry has a history in Washington, D.C. While most recently he has been director of the National Zoo, before that he served as executive director of the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, and before that he served as assistant secretary for Policy, Management and Budget at the Interior Department from 1997 to 2000. During his tenure, the agency’s budget increased from $7 billion to $10 billion, and he developed a presidential initiative known as the “Lands Legacy.”

Mr. Berry said the other day that he hasn't been contacted by the new administration, but would love to return to Interior. "I have a deep and abiding appreciation and commitment to the department's mission," he said in a story that ran in CongressDaily. "This opportunity would allow me to advance issues that I am passionate about."

Now, parts of Mr. Berry's resume might draw some concern from the most ardent national park advocates. For starters, he's tied to the American Recreation Coalition, which is a big proponent of motorized recreation in the parks. Most recently Mr. Berry was appointed to ARC's Outdoor Resources Review Group, whose role is to "assess changes in recreation, recreation resources and recreation needs and formulate recommendations for the new Administration and the next Congress..."

“Among ARC’s key objectives are ensuring that the work of this group highlights appropriately the human values of recreation and encouraging discussion about recreation management that appeals to 21st Century Americans while still protecting core natural and cultural resources,” said ARC President Derrick Crandall this past July when the appointments were announced. “I will help this group understand the vital and appropriate roles being played by the private sector in meeting the nation’s recreation and conservation needs – and how steps can be taken to build upon current partnerships. This group will also need to focus attention on the resources and the needs of youth service organizations, including scouting organizations, long involved in connecting American kids to the outdoors.”

Additionally, Mr. Berry apparently long has supported user fees.


Yikes! Well at least he's better than Mike Thompson (who voted against roadless areas in Tongass for example)!

Grijalva still remains the best choice, and people need to continue the push for him to be apppointed. Don't let insider politics drail the best opportunity we have to clean up interior and protect our public lands. he is staying in the hunt. His folks are saying that he is not giving up this fight for interior until the president elect makes the call.

Perhaps Mr. Berry can find a middle-ground where motorized use can be balanced with conservation at all levels. Having someone in that post who can objectively look a both sides would be a boon to the DOI, not at all a detriment.

Time is short for planet earth, let's get a pro-active conservationist in the DOI. Let's tone down all of are afterburners with less energy and select a good man that can make it all happen. May I suggest several individuals: Mr. Grijalva is a good one but we need someone more dynamic. Perhaps somebody from the Stuart Udall family would like to throw in there hat. The Parks have been screwed over for years, let's get them in order for the next generation...what's left of it from global warming.

More gloom and doom? Really? Even in light of a recent study that found that melting ice may slow warming? Even in light of a recent report titled, "More Than 650 International Scientists Dissent Over Man-Made Global Warming Claims"?

But back to the topic.

Someone please submit my name to Mr. Obama for Interior Secretary. I promise to remove national parks from political influence once and for all. I promise to replace parasitic, monopolistic multinational corporations that are national park concessions. I promise to render national parks self-sufficient. I promise to eliminate pork-barrel parks such as Steamtown.

Whomever Obama chooses will be interesting. Will he pick someone interests groups approve? Or will he bring real change to the DOI? Somehow, I suspect it is the former.

Frank C, if so choosen...please keep the NRA influence out of the National Parks...which I dare you won't do...Mr. Gun shop!


Actually, my plan would keep interest groups, including the NRA, from influencing park management. Once parks are removed from federal ownership and management, the second amendment would not apply. Individual parks, freed from political chains and federal bureaucracy, would be able to determine if people would be able to carry firearms in the privately managed parks.

Berry is the best choice out there because he is a committed conservationist, the only candidate with experience within Interior and a track record of leading and managing large organizations, and is highly respected by Members of Congress from both parties. Beyond the serious conservation issues the next Secretary will face, they will inherit a Department that has not been effectively managed for decades. He turned the National Zoo around...can any of the other Interior Secretary candidates say they have done something similar?

John Berry is a personal friend. I have known John for 21 years. He would be an outstanding choice as Interior Secretary. Make no mistake about John's conservation credentials. Conservation is a passion. Upon leaving Interior in 2000 (having served in the #3 position for 3 years -- Assistant Secretary for Policy, Management and Budget) he became Executive Director of the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation. He left NFWF to become Director of the National Zoo where he has brought to the zoo his commitment to conservation.

John has been involved in the coaltion you mentioned. As I understand it it has a mandate far beyond the issue mentioned in the your posting. John is a strong proponent of wildnerness areas and believes strongly that no mechanized vehicles belong in the wildnerness. He also recognizes that balances on other public lands must be reached that allow such vehicles but that are also protective of wildlife. He worked hard to make sure that the vehicles that were allowed in were less polluting and less noisy.

John will be a great and creative Secretary of the Interior if nominated by President-elect Obama. The country will be lucky to have someone of his quality.

Kevin Bliss
Washington DC

I would think Mr. Obama would want to hold on to Democrats, like the Udalls, in previously Republican seats. Too dangerous to re-open those seats.

But it is interesting that so few substantial candidates are in the mix for the Secretary of the Interior's job. Once held by distinguished statesmen like Harold Ickes, Rodgers Morton, and Cecil Andrus, you would hope the Obama people could identify a stronger field of candidates.

I would second the Udall connection and suggest newly-elected Senator Mark Udall from Colorado. As the former head of Colorado Outward Bound and a long-time congressman from CO as well as a whitewater kayaker, he understands the West, the public lands, and politics. I had the privilege of paddling the Yampa River years ago with Mark Udall as well as one of my heroes Mo Udall. Of course Stewart Udall was a great Sec of Interior during the 60's. It would be great to see Mark continue the family legacy.

Tommy Franks...let's get a military man in there to shape things up (or perhaps he would be better as NPS Director). The parks were run extremely well in days past when the military ran them. Sharp-looking rangers in sharp uniforms, who had good core values in service to the American people. "Yes sir", "yes ma'am" versus "yeah, dude."

I agree with d-2. One of the attractive features for Democrats of the suggestion that Raul Grijalva from Arizona be appointed is that there is little chance that they would lose that seat in a new election.

I heard Rep. Grijalva speak this weekend at the annual meeting of the Association of National Park Rangers in Santa Fe. His message of the restoration and reinvigoration of the National Park Service was refreshing to hear. I know there are frequent posters on NPT who believe that government agencies such as the NPS are incapable of managing a complex system of protected areas. I don't buy that. Given sufficient support and resources, the NPS can manage the National Park System. But, as d-2 points out, it will take enlightened leadership at the DOI and the appointment of a first-class professional as the Director of the NPS to make that happen. We can't afford to have political affiliation or geographic location be the determining litmus tests.

Rick Smith

Things are pointing today, unfortunately, to Ken Salazar being appointed. According to the Denver Post, this is likely. I think you'll hear from a lot of environmentalists who would have wished they had Mike Thompson, if they knew they'd get stuck with a guy like Salazar.

Is it too soon to talk about the re-emergence of the Green Party four years from now? I don't think Obama realizes the degree to which he will anger people with this Interior choice. The sense a lot of people have is that Obama has no understanding of interior issues at all, which is why this selection process for interior has been so bungled and contentious.

Jim Macdonald
The Magic of Yellowstone
Yellowstone Newspaper
Jim's Eclectic World

Obama is just another hack politician spawned in the infamous and mightily corrupt Chicago machine; which has, down through the years, given us the likes of Richard Daley, Dan Rostenkowski and now Governor Rod Blagojevich to name but a few.

To think that Mr. Obama possesses a vision that is more sophisticated than the art of backroom political maneuvering, shady cash infused deal-making and altruistic sounding taxpayer shakedowns is nothing more than pure hope-filled naivety on the part of any NPT readers that think otherwise.

He will pick the most politically expedient people for ALL of his cabinet positions, regardless of their qualifications. The politicking has just begun and the ways of the Imperial Presidency will now reflect the modus operandi of Crook County, dead voter rolls and all.

If you're well connected enough he can probably get your cousin a superintendency somewhere out West that he won't even have to show up to work for.

And, it looks like Salazar may indeed been offered the job -- see http://www.rockymountainnews.com/news/2008/dec/15/ken-salazar-mum-possible-interior-secretary-appoin/ .

The AP's new list of possible appointments has taken down Grijalva's name from its list -

Sen. Ken Salazar, D-Colo.
David J. Hayes, head of Obama's transition teams for energy and natural resources agencies and former deputy interior secretary under Clinton.
John Berry, director of the National Zoo

Reuters also lists Salazar as the top candidate: http://www.reuters.com/article/politicsNews/idUSTRE4BC14N20081215 .

And, I don't think everyone will be none too happy with this selection, at least those who care.

Wow, and we almost had Grijalva -- God help us.

Jim Macdonald
The Magic of Yellowstone
Yellowstone Newspaper
Jim's Eclectic World

Jim, perhaps you could specifically cite your concerns with Salazar. Frankly, anyone the new administration selects should be a step up from the last two Interior secretaries, no?

An interesting conversation about Salazar going on here ... http://wolves.wordpress.com/2008/12/15/it-looks-a-lot-like-ken-salazar-as-secretary-of-interior/#comments .

I don't know if two steps up from the bottom rungs of hell is good enough. As the conversation at the link makes clear, I think the lesson in this is that the template for change and leadership has to come from the bottom rather than from the top.

Jim Macdonald
The Magic of Yellowstone
Yellowstone Newspaper
Jim's Eclectic World

Jim, c'mon, let's get some specifics. I didn't read all 46 comments, but the few I did were tossing around glib generalities.

I probably didn't read far enough down, but I didn't see one mention that he's pro guns in the parks. That's a strike against him.

Nor did I see any mention that as director of Colorado's DNR he "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." Those should be three positives, no?

Also, he was the first Senate Democrat to speak out against Paul Hoffman's handiwork with the Management Policies and he cosponsored legislation to fund the NPS centennial. Another plus.

True, he publicly was friends with Alberto Gonzalez and Joe Lieberman, probably not two of his better decisions.

No doubt there are stronger voices, those with higher public profiles. This isn't an endorsement, but really, wouldn't anyone picked by the incoming administration be better than the most recent Interior secretaries?

Ken Salazar's "Environmental Record" on Wikipedia reads:

"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.[2]

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. [3]

In 2006, Salazar voted to end protections that limit off-shore drilling in Florida's Gulf Coast.[4]

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.[5]

According to Project Vote Smart, Ken Salazar received a 25% vote rating for 2007 by the Humane Society of the United States [6], a 0% vote rating for 2005-2006 for Fund for Animals [7], and a 60% vote rating for 2007 by Defenders of Wilderness [8].

Save a copy, before the edit-army hits his entry. ;-)

[P.S. I am having a discouraging experience with the CAPTCHA routine on this site. Seriously, I am not blind or illiterate ... but you'd never guess it from the hassle I'm getting...]

What are yur issues with Salazar?

I did not follow his track record so far, but solid 100% from the American Wilderness Coalition in consecutive years looks impressive to me: http://www.votesmart.org/issue_rating_category.php?category=30&go.x=13&go.y=13&can_id=1541&type=category

The Denver Post reports that Sen. Ken Salazar is our new Secretary of the Interior. Here in Colorado the Senator has served as Attorney General, and had his eye on the Agriculture post, presumably because his family is in that business. It will be interesting to see how he balances the needs of agriculture and conservation/preservation.

If you look at the American Wilderness Coalition ratings, that can't be based on more than 3 to 4 votes because the ratings are either 0% 33% 50% 66% 75% or 100%, which is not a telling rating at all.

What concerns me in what I have read about Salazar are all the specifics raised here and elsewhere, that he has a history even on those issues he has supported of working for the concerns of certain constituents in Colorado rather than the environment at large.

What initially turned me off was his early support for Gov. Dave Freudenthal of Wyo. for the Interior post, a person who would be a disaster and has fought hard for Wyoming's draconian policies on wolves.

In these parts, the agricultural and livestock interests people have never shown any ability to get around wildlife issues. So called progressive ranchers like Gov. Schweitzer, for instance, have done absolutely nothing for the problems in Yellowstone they have say in, particularly bison. But, also that can be stretched to apply to wolves and elk, as well. Anyone who has a 25% rating from an organization as lukewarm as the Humane Society of the United States (perhaps I should disclose that my ex-wife is an employee of HSUS) has got to be troubling for an interior position.

The fact remains that a huge number of western environmental groups signed a letter in support of Grijalva. He was an early favorite, and then something happened. Then, Pelosi supposedly offered him a position in Ways and Means to appease him (rumor on one site has been that he turned it down). It's not clear who is served by this choice. It's doubtful that Republicans are enamored with him; it's clear that environmentalists wanted someone else.

Now, I don't really care; I would have been skeptical even if Grijalva had been chosen because I'm distrustful of government entirely when it comes to these issues. So, you could have gone all the way to Grijalva, and you would have at best begun to thaw my cynicism. However, that much would have provided just that much more hope and motivation that someone very knowledgeable on parks and interior issues and sympathetic to the mismanagement of the last eight years would have been in charge. And, if he of all people failed, that would have made just much of a stronger case for the need for a much stronger grassroots movement to deal with all the ills in our world as opposed to a reliance on government to fix everything.

I mean, look, I left a blank ballot for President; what we are getting from Obama is exactly what I expected. He never claimed to be anything except exactly what he is. However, the choice of Grijalva would have been an unexpected and welcome surprise.

With Salazar, we are merely going to get an adjustment on business as usual, which isn't enough when a lot of things are quite dire. We can't simply measure things based on the alternatives in the two-party system; that may be politically pragmatic, but it's not environmentally pragmatic. The world needs more, and if it can't get more from the politicians (and even if it can), it needs more from us. And, that had better be practical or we live in a truly cynical and doomed world, not one I wish to be a part of. Luckily, at heart, I'm the eternal optimist when it comes to the possibility of all us to do more and be empowered to take effective action.

Jim Macdonald
The Magic of Yellowstone
Yellowstone Newspaper
Jim's Eclectic World

MRC notes:

"... solid 100% from the American Wilderness Coalition in consecutive years looks impressive to me ..."
AWC is a land-acquisition organization, i.e., aiming to buy up private land, making it sound like a 'wilderness' score. The success of certain early-adopters (Nature Conservancy, et al) of this 'model' has encouraged a proliferation of knock-offs both local and national. They are essentially 21st C. versions of the great timber companies, amassing land as a worthy goal in itself ... and sweet-talking the public into tax-deductible contributions to fund their purchases! These organizations show a clear inclination to both conservative politics, and Conservation - as opposed to Preservation - environmentalism. Ken Salazar suits their purposes & aims, just fine ... but these are not 'tree-hugger' outfits.

Jim M. said:

What initially turned me off [to Ken Salazar] was his early support for Gov. Dave Freudenthal of Wyo. for the Interior post, a person who would be a disaster and has fought hard for Wyoming's draconian policies on wolves.

In these parts, the agricultural and livestock interests people have never shown any ability to get around wildlife issues. So called progressive ranchers like Gov. Schweitzer, for instance, have done absolutely nothing for the problems in Yellowstone they have say in, particularly bison. But, also that can be stretched to apply to wolves and elk, as well.

To be involved in "agriculture" or "livestock" in the Rocky Mountain & Western States, one must own considerable amounts of real estate, and capital infrastructure. It's expensive, big-time. People who own those kinds of resources range between truly wealthy and unimaginably wealthy. As such, they constitute a tiny (demographically, electorally insignificant) portion of the population.

The constituencies who are swinging ballot-issues contrary to your preferences (and those of many regulars on this website), are not "agricultural and livestock interests people" because there isn't anywhere near enough of them. Instead, it is the more-ordinary citizens who occupy a broad range the full spectrum of positions & roles in society who's votes are enacting the policies that you (and many others here) oppose. Wealthy ranchers etc often provide the leadership & seed-money, yes, but it is 'real' people who provide the votes that establish policy in Wyoming, Colorado, and other Western regions.

It is widely perceived that a major purpose & intent of the introduction of wolves, buffalo, etc, was from the beginning to undercut & challenge the social & business bases which exist in Western regions. The Spotted Owl was about damaging logging in the Pacific Northwest. Nobody with two brain cells still talking to each other, ever imagined that Yellowstone buffalo would confine themselves to the Park boundaries. Wolf-proponents don't want healthy populations of wolves, they want Sacred Cows to which all other interests & factors must bow-down.

In manipulating & misrepresenting issues as they have, liberal-environmentalism has earned the ire of large portions of the ordinary folk throughout the West ... and that is why we see the success of figures like Ken Salazar. The problem you find yourself confronting is not "agricultural and livestock interests people", it's the very society around you.

Now, the question why President-elect Obama would see fit to pick a figure like Salazar to be Sec. of Interior is another, and also intriguing matter ...


I'm not going to defend liberal environmentalism or caricatures of the views of the people I know working on these issues - which are far more diverse than that.

You are right that the ag/livestock control of politics is far greater than their numbers or even their economic influence in these states. That sector makes up about 1% of the GDP of Montana, where I live. Yet, every politician in every commercial embraces the imagery and mythology of the cowboy. And, something in that imagery that attracts both major parties to adopt it in every campaign ad, that attracts the state's population to elect time after time people who fit out a certain biographical profile unrepresentative of the demographics in the states, does reflect a repudiation of sorts of what you call liberal-environmentalism - a movement that has been poorly represented by the sell out NGOs who spend more time in court, raising money, selling calendars, and schmoozing with the government that westerners so rightly are mistrustful of. That the no growth policies of these groups often shows no class consciousness at all, it's not remarkable to me that people will settle for the ranchers (that they don't care for either) than for an environmentally conscious perspective.

But, there are also institutional advantages, which help perpetuate the ag/livestock power over these states that have little to do with society around us. They are the ones already in power and have been in power for a long time; it's easy to continue leveraging that power. It's not easy to break a good old boy network. Secondly, legislative sessions are in the winter months, making it much easier for a ranch owner - already rich to begin with - to run for office and serve in the state legislatures. And, thirdly, when both major parties have adopted the mythology, there never really is any choice in the vote - outside of certain urban enclaves. I should mention that fourthly, the broadcast media in the state shows an obvious bias toward the entrenched power in the state.

All that said, I don't disagree that there's a need to confront and inform the society at large to the extent that power rests first and foremost with the people, though it's hardly exercised by people (except by the sinkhole of electoral politics - which drains people of their power, though it's sold as empowering). That's why in the end, it doesn't really matter if it's Grijalva, Salazar, or Kempthorne. You don't hope to fix entrenched power by playing the game designed by those forces. That was always the contradiction of Obama's candidacy - he called on people to take responsibility, work from the ground up - all to elect someone to the most authoritarian position in the world, to strip away the power of special interests so that he alone could have that power (and therefore not need to make appointments based on the desires of any constituency) - provided on a platter by a grassroots effort. Imagine what that kind of community organizing could do if we actually used that organizing capacity to actually empower people to work toward undermining the entrenched powers that be.

I don't think that's a liberal point of view. But, is it environmentalist? It's at least non-anthropocentric - why it is is an essay in and of itself.

In any event, from the standpoint of an organizer, Grijalva would have given us a better chance of success. The choice of Salazar only further clarifies that our efforts on some of these issues are in resistance and not in partnership. The dam would have simply broken a little easier with Grijalva in power.

Jim Macdonald
The Magic of Yellowstone
Yellowstone Newspaper
Jim's Eclectic World