Guest Opinions

Otter, other Western governors would make great Interior secretaries

U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell and Idaho Gov. Butch Otter made an appearance together in May 2015 to announce a collaborative strategy to deal with intense wildfires. Both Jewell and Otter have the kind of western background that some believe is essential for the next interior secretary.
U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell and Idaho Gov. Butch Otter made an appearance together in May 2015 to announce a collaborative strategy to deal with intense wildfires. Both Jewell and Otter have the kind of western background that some believe is essential for the next interior secretary.

President-elect Donald Trump will fill over 4,000 politically appointed positions during his transition. One of these positions will have a critical and oversized impact on western states.

The federal government owns 47% of land in 11 western states compared to just 4% ownership in the other 39 states. Because western states are so heavily impacted by Department of Interior decisions, the Secretary of Interior historically has western roots. In fact, since 1949, only one Secretary of Interior has come from a state east of the Mississippi River. While many expect President-elect Trump to lean heavily on experienced executives from the east coast for many of his cabinet appointments, his transition team should look west for an Interior Secretary.

So the immediate question becomes, who from the western states has the experience to provide a better-managed Department of Interior. Here are four western-based conservative conservationists who should be considered for President Trump’s Interior Secretary:

▪ Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter: As Idaho’s Governor for the last 10 years, Governor Otter has a firsthand appreciation of the interplay between state and federal management of public land. In Idaho, the federal government owns more than 60% of the land within the state. Otter has worked to forge partnerships with the federal government to result in better land stewardship, regardless of the ownership boundary. This year, for the first time ever, through the Good Neighbor Authority, Idaho was able to auction off federal timber land to help restore forest health while sustaining the timber industry

▪ Gov. Matt Mead: As Governor of Wyoming, Mead has been a strong regional voice calling for improvements to the Endangered Species Act to identify where it works and to find changes that can be supported by all stakeholders without undue burdens. Governor Mead recently launched a bold state initiative to preserve and promote Wyoming’s $4.5 billion outdoor recreational industry, and this year led an effort to permanently protect state land located inside the Grand Teton National Park.

▪ Gov. Brian Sandoval: As Nevada’s Governor since 2010, Sandoval has been a strong voice on conservation issues. He has been a leader in promoting state programs to preserve sage-grouse habitat, supported the Southern Nevada Public Land Management Act which funded land conservation initiatives, and as Chairman of the Western Governors’ Association he focused the group’s attention on drought impacts on western lands.

▪ Gov. Mary Fallin: Oklahoma’s Governor has advocated successfully for balancing the interests of Oklahoma’s oil and gas industries and communities. She has also pursued an “all of the above energy” strategy which has made Oklahoma a leader in renewable energy as well. Governor Fallin has also introduced and signed into law Oklahoma’s first ever comprehensive energy strategy and a 50‑year water conservation plan that was seen as the most ambitious water measure in the country when it passed in 2012.

The common thread between these four conservative leaders extends beyond their western roots. Each of these western governors has a governing record demonstrating that they will implement smarter management of our natural resources and place a priority on protecting and conserving our nation’s prized public lands. Conservative conservationists should unite in urging the appointment of a western Interior Secretary who will uphold western values.

Sandra Mitchell is the Executive Director of the Idaho Recreation Council, which collaborates with land managers, legislators and the public to ensure a positive future for responsible outdoor recreation access for everyone, now and into the future.

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