Friday, April 22, 2016

Interior Secretary Jewell defends, promotes America’s public lands, and threatens lawmakers


Interior Secretary Sally Jewell laid out the case in a speech Tuesday for the U.S. to make a course correction in conservation that confronts climate change, invests more in our natural and recreation infrastructure, and helps build a new generation of nature lovers.

And Jewell’s path will run through Idaho, where she said she’ll come to listen and promote the ambitious landscape conservation plan for the 173 million acres of sagebrush steppe. “I plan to visit Idaho to discuss building resilient sagebrush landscapes in the face of wildfires,” Jewell said.

She talked about how she came to Idaho and the West and listened to governors, ranchers, county commissioners and others as her land and wildlife agencies developed plans to protect sage grouse across 11 states. These plans incorporated science and the needs of the people who use and make their living across the huge ecosystem that is a defining symbol of the wide open spaces of the American West.

Best of all, the plans were robust enough to let the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service determine that listing the sage grouse under the federal Endangered Species Act was unnecessary.

“That’s the model for the future of conservation,” Jewell said in a speech this week at the National Geographic Society. “That big-picture, roll-up-your-sleeves, get-input-from-all-stakeholders kind of planning is how land management agencies should orient themselves in the 21st century.”

Actually, in her support and shrewd stewarding of the sage grouse effort, Jewell wasn’t really changing the course of conservation but building on collaborative and cooperative conservation that reaches back to the 1990s, said Lyn Scarlett, the managing director of public policy for the Nature Conservancy and deputy Interior secretary under President George W. Bush .

I covered Scarlett’s own success in turning the Bush Administration from a policy of encouraging widespread sage grouse habitat destruction under Interior Secretary Gale Norton to the beginnings of landscape conservation under Secretary Dirk Kempthorne. She’s worked closely with Jewell in her new job and watched as the former CEO of REI has used her business leadership skills to turn thought into action.

When Jewell first took the job, many insiders on all sides of the resource world told me she was tentative and naive about how you get things done in Washington, D.C. Unlike former Interior secretaries Cecil Andrus and Bruce Babbitt, she appeared interested in recommending President Barack Obama proclaim national monuments under the Antiquities Act of 2006 only when the proposals had widespread local support and Congress couldn’t deliver.

“If Congress doesn’t step up to act to protect some of these important places that have been identified by communities and people throughout the country, then the president will take action,” Jewell said in October 2013.

But this week she made it clear that consensus isn’t necessary for the proposals she intends to make before Obama leaves office. And she signaled to House Resources Committee Chairman Rob Bishop, R-Utah, that she might propose monument proposals for places targeted in wilderness bills he introduced, knowing his proposals included poison-pill language preservationists cannot support. She included Utah in her conservation road show to look at areas “where there are a range of conservation proposals — legislative and otherwise — to further protect public lands.”

Right here in Dona Ana County it was made quite clear that consensus wasn't necessary.

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