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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.



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

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 [s]a broad range[/s] 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 ...

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

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.

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:

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...]

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?

An interesting conversation about Salazar going on here ... .

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

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