OUT: Sunday Column December 28, 2009

Salazar appointment should bode well for state’s outdoorsies

Forget the IPhones, GPS, fancy fishing rods and super-insulated snow boots for cold-weather adventures.

The best present outdoors enthusiasts received this Christmas was Ken Salazar’s nomination for secretary of the interior.

While no one expects Salazar to please every critic, and there already are some people complaining that President-elect Barack Obama’s choice for Interior won’t be tough enough, it’s safe to say whatever Salazar accomplishes will be an immense improvement over the past eight years, which the Bush administration spent despoiling our natural resources.

From the view of a hunter, angler and wildlife enthusiast, it’s difficult to find any cabinet post more critical to Colorado and the West than the Interior Department.

If he’s approved, the 53-year-old Alamosa native (his Colorado roots go back five
generations) will be handed the reins to the wagon train encircling nearly every aspect of Colorado’s environment and economy.

Interior includes such diverse government agencies as the Bureau of Land Management and its 264 million acres of public land; the National Park Service; the Bureau of Reclamation (think water in the West and BuRec is involved); Minerals and Management Services (which collects and distributes the state’s energy royalties); the Bureau of Mines; the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; and the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

Which means there aren’t many places you can go and things you can do that aren’t affected, at least remotely, by the Department of the Interior.

Salazar’s knowledge of western issues, including such diverse issues as endangered species, grazing, energy development and off-road vehicle use, and the fact he’s a conscientious centrist, has gained him praise from many corners, including those more interested in extraction than protection.

Call it whistling in the dark if you like, but even the Independent Petroleum Association of Mountain States, which hasn’t always agreed with my stance on the helter-skelter nature of energy development across Western public lands, has indicated approval of Salazar’s nomination, albeit for different reasons.

“Senator Salazar will provide a strong Western voice and will play a pivotal role in meeting the emissions and increasing energy security,” said IPAMS Executive Director Marc Smith.

Smith goes on to say “there is a strong rationale for a consistent and responsible development on federal lands in the Intermountain West.”

There’s little question we’re hearing a widespread call for “responsible energy development” from both sides of the issue, and if Salazar can figure out how to achieve that and leave the majority of his constituency smiling he might next want to tackle the auto industry bailout and the Broncos’ playoff hopes.

Too many people might be expecting sudden changes in policy and practice, but watching our economy go south and putting other issues on the back burner make us think any changes that get made in our environmental polices and regulations aren’t going to happen overnight.

Particularly in light of how, in the waning days of his rule, Bush apparently has decided to dismantle what’s left of the nation’s resource-protection policies.

University of College professor, historian and author Patricia Limerick, speaking in an interview with the Paonia-based High County News, cautioned Western enviros not to expect too much too soon from Obama and Salazar.

It’s going to take time and energy to restore the regulations and environmental protections weakened by Bush, said Limerick, who also is chair of the Center of the American West.

In her interview with HCN writer Ray Ring, Limerick urged a “thoughtful approach” to environmental issues such as grazing, energy development, water protection and endangered species.

Hard-liners on both sides of the environmental/conservation fence know that change is sure to come over the next four years.

Some of that change will be driven by the economy, some of it by legislation, but the majority of it must come by working together to find answers to the country’s demands for clean air, clean water and clean energy.


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