Idaho is endowed with abundant natural resources and public lands — and people who championed them, including the late Sen. Frank Church and two Idaho governors who also served stints as head of the Department of the Interior: Cecil Andrus in the Jimmy Carter administration and Dirk Kempthorne in the George W. Bush administration.
When Sally Jewell signed on as Interior secretary in April 2013, she was familiar with the Northwest, Idahoans and their natural assets because she had worked with them often during her career: first as a petroleum engineer, later as a commercial banker with clients in Idaho and the West, and finally as CEO of REI.
During a visit with the Statesman Editorial Board on Tuesday, she mentioned her friendship with Kempthorne, and how she quickly came to understand through conversations with him and her predecessor, Ken Salazar, that the ecretary of the Interior is “in the forever business” –– meaning that decisions have a lasting impact.
We appreciate the respect she brought when contemplating the profound nature of her position: managing 20 percent of the nation’s lands, including national parks, wildlife refuges and other public lands; overseeing the development of conventional and renewable energy options on land and water; and upholding the trust responsibilities to the 566 federally recognized American Indian tribes and Alaska Natives.
We appreciate even more that job No. 1 for Jewell was to listen first, act later. As she prepares to leave her position in the Obama administration, the half-life of her many collaborative endeavors in Idaho and throughout the country will live on.
Not everyone is happy and not everything is completely solved.
The greater sage grouse remains off the endangered species list today because of Jewell’s efforts working with the Western Governors Association — though three core sage grouse states, including Idaho, sued the Obama administration because they felt Jewell’s department violated the spirit of collaboration they had settled on when creating some of the states’ individual landscape plans to protect the bird. (Idaho’s lawsuit was tossed out by a federal judge, though Gov. Butch Otter could appeal the decision.)
On the plus side, more listening and discussions have led to a better understanding about how to mitigate and, when necessary, combat rangeland and wildland fires, as well as deal with invasive plant species.
“Taking the long view, considering what’s right for future generations, and striking a balance between strong economic development and a thriving ecosystem is really what this job is all about,” Jewell said Tuesday. “When we listen to each other, there is always a far better outcome.”
Not coincidentally, that is Jewell’s advice for her likely successor, Donald Trump nominee Rep. Ryan Zinke, R-Montana, who is expected to be confirmed.
“Listen. Work hard to get all points of view,” Jewell said. “I have listened very closely to the Western Governors’ Association. ... I will encourage the next administration to continue to do that.”
The leader of the Department of the Interior is exposed to constant and sometimes conflicting points of view and advice, but in the end this person is the chief steward of our landscapes and must strike that balance.
Jewell achieved that by listening to stakeholders from all points on the spectrum, by cultivating relationships and by always remembering that she was, indeed, in the “forever business.”
Her successor would do well to emulate her inclusive style: Listen. Learn. Lead.
Unsigned Editorial Board opinions express the consensus of the Statesman’s Editorial Board. William Myers, a community member on the board, recused himself from this editorial because his law firm represents the governor of Utah in one of the ongoing sage grouse lawsuits. To comment on an editorial or suggest a topic, email editorial@idaho statesman.com.