Sally Jewell paddled the mild whitewater of the Boise River in a kayak on a trip with other company officials a few years ago.
The Recreational Equipment Inc. CEO guided the nearly $2 billion outdoor retailer back to profitability after she took over in 2000.
Now that Jewell has been nominated by President Barack Obama to helm the Department of the Interior, she will have to navigate the Senate confirmation process.
If confirmed, the Seattle resident will take over as the nations top wildlife manager and be the landlord of more than 500 million acres of national parks, federal rangeland and wildlife refuges. That includes more than 16 million acres in Idaho, from the Owyhee Canyonlands to Yellowstone National Park.
Jewell, 56, would manage more than 600 dams and would be responsible for 68 percent of the nations oil and gas reserves and millions of acres of federal mining lands.
Her leadership in making the outdoor recreation industry a major voice for conservation helps make the environmental community consider her one of its own.
But the University of Washington engineering graduate began her career with Mobil, working in the oil fields of Oklahoma and Wyoming before moving to the banking industry to oversee petroleum land investments. That connection has been noticed.
Her experience as a petroleum engineer and business leader will bring a unique perspective to an office that is key to our nations energy portfolio, said Tim Wigley, president of the Western Energy Alliance.
Tom Chelstrom, the retired manager of REIs Boise store on Emerald Street, said Jewell is a visionary leader who will bring people together.
Every time I had the opportunity to spend time with her, she inspired me to be a leader not just in the store but in the community, Chelstrom said.
A DIFFERENT KIND OF SECRETARY
Jewells appointment goes against the grain. Most interior secretaries have been career politicians who were elevated to the post, such as Dirk Kempthorne and Cecil Andrus, two Idahoans who held the position.
Outgoing Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, a former Colorado senator, was a rancher, one of the traditional industries along with mining and logging of the Old West, something that often had influence when it came time for a president to make his pick.
Jewell would be the departments first secretary to come from recreation, one of the Wests emerging economic sectors, said Rick Johnson, executive director of the Idaho Conservation League.
Johnson served with Jewell on the board of Obamas Americas Great Outdoors Initiative.
Shes New West, shes not Old West, Johnson said.
Outdoor recreation created $646 billion in national sales and services in 2011, nearly double the size of pharmaceuticals and motor vehicles/parts, according to a report commissioned by the Outdoor Industry Association, the Western Governors Association, and both motorized and nonmotorized recreation groups.
Creating more than 6 million jobs, the recreation industry is as big as the financial services and insurance industries and outpatient health care, the report said.
NO COWBOY BOOTS
During her introduction by Obama on Wednesday, Jewell said that Salazars big cowboy boots would be hard to fill.
But I think I might get lost in your hat, she joked.
Salazar got along well with Idaho Republican Gov. Butch Otter and pleased Western ranchers when he pushed for removing the Rocky Mountain gray wolf from the Endangered Species List.
The ICLs Johnson doesnt expect Jewells policies will be much different, but her style could be.
For one, Obama might be looking to leave a legacy on conservation. On Tuesday, former Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt urged the president to protect as much federal land as it leases annually for oil and gas.
In Obamas first term, 6 million acres were leased and 2.6 million acres protected. Babbitt called for generous use of the Antiquities Act of 1906, which gives the president the power to designate national monuments.
Clearly, she is going to be the architect of some component of the Obama conservation legacy, Johnson said.
Chelstrom predicts that Jewells experience hiking, climbing mountains, kayaking and getting kids interested in the outdoors might allow her to reach a larger audience than past secretaries.
I would hope that she is successful in engaging the nation in a conversation about protection of our public lands, Chelstrom said.
Rocky Barker: 377-6484