Sunday, March 13, 2016

At Malheur, Sally Jewell was missing in action

by Matt Jenkins

The takeover of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon was the latest in a series of fights against federal management of Western land that have, for better or worse, been lumped together as the Sagebrush Rebellion. The story will now unwind in the relative safety of the courts, yet I haven’t been able to shake one question: Where was Sally Jewell when the West needed her?

The former REI executive who is now the secretary of the Interior is in charge of national wildlife refuges like the Malheur; public grazing lands like the ones the Bundys run their cattle; Indian sacred sites like those of the Burns Paiute Tribe; as well as of our national parks, our endangered fish and wildlife, and our water.

Jewell ought to be the first person to stand up for these treasures when they come under attack. Instead, we got complete silence. Meanwhile, the occupiers tramped out to hold daily press conferences, laying forth a litany of grievances wrapped in anti-government venom, and the news media lapped it up.

...We needed Jewell’s voice to tell us this, too, or something like it. Instead, she took a trip to Africa. That trip, her press handlers will be quick to point out, was part of an international effort to stop wildlife smuggling. Fair enough. Standing up to people like the Malheur occupiers is not an enviable job, but it is, ultimately, Jewell’s job.

Her absence from the Malheur debacle felt like flat-out dereliction of duty. And the optics, as the media flacks say, were terrible. Incomprehensibly, in the midst of an armed seizure of one of her offices, the Interior Department’s media office released a video clip of Jewell in Kenya, “making friends with a baby rhinoceros.”

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