Sally Jewel for Secretary of the Interior: More questions than answers.

I told my friend Amy that I would try to write about my thoughts on Sally Jewel being nominated for U.S. Secretary of the Interior. But really, the more I read, the more I questioned everything surrounding this nominee.

Upon first glance, Jewel seems like a great candidate. She works for REI. That’s every ranger’s Mother Ship, right??? So why not? She supports the National Parks Conservation Association. Even better!

But let’s look at her background. And let’s look at the parks.

First of all, she’s a petroleum engineer. She’s been in that business. What types of jobs did she hold in that industry and what are her opinions on that resource and industry now?

REI helps get outdoor gear to the masses, but is she an avid outdoorsperson or just a “good” business CEO?

Does she understand water rights in the western states? How about science education and the field research potential for this nation? The Bureau of Indian Affairs?

The Department of the Interior is far more than oil leases and hiking in the National Parks.

I suppose she could learn as she goes. But what is her background? How will this influence her decisions?

And somewhere (I wish I had copied this link, if you find it, let me know), I read that President Obama was facing criticism for his other Cabinet post nominees, that they were too homogenous a group. So Jewel was a ‘different’ type of choice, to keep people happy. If she was, indeed, nominated for such reasons, what does this say about the concern of leadership for our nation as a whole, much less the direction of our natural resources?

The Department of Everything Else

In 1849, when the Department of the Interior was officially created (though it had been debated and demanded for years, not entirely because the Departments of State, War and Treasury wanted key office space held by various Bureaus and officials), it housed so many offices and held so many functions, that Interior (or “Home Department” as opposed to “State Department”) was often ridiculed for not having a concise function.

“For by offering a repository for functions that did not fit neatly elsewhere, Interior enabled Congress more easily to accept and discharge responsibilities for the internal needs of a rapidly growing nation. Some of the offices created for these functions were dismantled after completing their missions. Others, charged with missions of continuing relevance, endured. Still others matured and ultimately split off into full-blown cabinet departments.

A sampling of tasks assigned the Interior Department suggests the scope of its cares in the last half of the 19th century. These ranged from the conduct of the decennial census to the colonization of freed slaves in Haiti, from the exploration of western wilderness to oversight of the District of Columbia jail, from the regulation of territorial governments to construction of the national capital’s water system, from management of hospitals and universities to maintenance of public parks. Such functions, together with basic responsibilities for Indians, public lands, patents, and pensions, gave Interior officials an extraordinary array of concerns.” *

Sometimes, it still feels like that. Just today, a friend posted this statement to me: “I have never understood why it’s the Interior when it’s outdoor issues.”

I just giggled.

The problem is that this department is more than just outdoor issues. It always has been. We have some (not all) oversight and responsibility for our nation’s wealth of natural resources. And unlike the Department of Agriculture, which also holds some of the same responsibilities, Interior’s iconic landscapes are often the poster children for much debate over said resources.

Will the next Secretary just look at this nation as if it were a Big Box store, with lots of things to sell? Or will the next Secretary do as one of her/his predecessors suggested and protect one acre of wilderness for every acre that is developed? **

Think money or think forward?

Or will it be somewhere in between?

Another type of Disneyland

When discussing the Department of the Interior, the debate over the National Parks comes to mind. Ah yes, the fall guy of the Interior. Who can name another bureau of the Interior Department? (Ok, name one without looking at the previous section.)

Some might argue that the big National Parks are almost already like Disneyland. Crowded, traffic and noise abounding, with rules and lines every where. They have strayed from their original purpose. They are just another bureaucracy. They are an entity played around with by politicians hoping to get the other side to do as they please.

The parks need better management. They need more development. They need more services. They need more paves roads. They need cleaner bathrooms. Or better yet, they need bathrooms with actual plumbing as opposed to outhouses. THEY NEED MORE CELL PHONE TOWERS BECAUSE I NEED TO CHECK MY PHONE EVERY FIVE MINUTES OR I MIGHT DIE.

The parks need more protection and care. Wolves and grizzlies deserve a home too. I need places where I can go to get away from my daily routine. I need to hear the wind blowing through the trees, helping me to clear my mind. I need clean air and clean water. I need solace and peace.

The new Secretary is going to have oversight on these issues. Will development rule? Will we, as one cynic posed it today, see logos for REI and Exxon on the backs of our National Park Service entrance passes from now on if Jewel is confirmed? Will we happily walk some distance to enjoy a beautiful view, or will we just sit at home and look at pictures from a bygone era on our electronic devices?

Or will protection rule? Will wild animals have a home? Will we be forced to enjoy birds singing and streams babbling instead of hearing cell phones beeping?

I know which I would prefer. Of course, I don’t have a smart phone either.

For the last few years, I have been a ranger. Therefore, I quote John Muir a lot. He had some insights about situations like these:

“God has cared for these trees, saved them from drought, disease, avalanches, and a thousand tempests and floods. But he cannot save them from fools.”

“Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out going to the mountains is going home; that wilderness is a necessity…”

In the case of the National Parks, make that 275+ million people.***

Yes, I would say our new Secretary will have a complex job, pulled at by many groups and motives. Does working for the Mother Ship really indicate a leader in this arena?


For a bit more light reading, I pulled a few tidbits from the following:



***; statistics as of FY2011.