By Mark Jaffe
The Denver Post
Article Last Updated: 12/17/2008 01:32:07 AM MST
As head of the Department of the Interior, Ken Salazar will face a delicate balancing act in managing public lands for conservation, recreation and development, according to industry executives and environmental activists.
"It is a balance that kind of got out of whack in the last few years," said Jane Danowitz, public land director for the Pew Environment Group.
Salazar will also face issues his predecessors have not, including starting up offshore oil drilling, helping institute the Obama administration's renewable-energy policy and adding climate change to public-lands planning.
"This is a very full and complex plate," said Bill Meadows, president of the Wilderness Society, an environmental group based in Washington, D.C.
"Ken Salazar is a good choice for the job," Meadows said. "He has a conservation ethic, and while we haven't always agreed with him, he is someone who will listen with an open mind."
Salazar is seen as a centrist who will listen to all sides.
"We've worked with Sen. Salazar, and he understands the importance of natural gas development to American energy independence," said Marc Smith, executive director of the Independent Petroleum Association of Mountain States.
"There are interest groups that may be loud and opinionated," Smith said. "It will be Ken Salazar's job to keep it all balanced."
As a fifth-generation Coloradan with credentials as a state attorney general and director of the state Department of Natural Resources, Salazar is widely seen as having a command of Western and public-lands issues.
Among the initiatives he draws praise for are starting Great Outdoors Colorado, a lottery-money trust fund for state open-space programs; helping create Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve; and his effort to pass a "good Samaritan" bill to help clean up abandoned mining sites.
"The good Samaritan legislation, which would have encouraged private cleanups, is a good example of Salazar," said Allan Front, senior vice president at the Trust for Public Lands.
"It wasn't flashy," Front said. "It was a workmanlike solution that tried to accommodate industry and conservation."
Salazar also has been lauded for his opposition to the Bush administration's efforts to push through oil-shale development rules and drilling on the Roan Plateau.
In 2007, Salazar won more time for the state to comment on the Roan leasing plan by holding up James Caswell's nomination as director of the Bureau of Land Management until Interior Secretary Kirk Kempthorne relented.
One area where Salazar is drawing fire is his positions on the Endangered Species Act.
In 1999, as state attorney general, Salazar opposed the listing of the black-tailed prairie dog under the act, saying there was insufficient data. The Fish and Wildlife Service is evaluating whether the species should be protected.
Critics such as WildEarthGuardians and the Center for Biological Diversity contend that Salazar tilts in favor of agribusiness over threatened species.
Salazar also is chided by these groups for endorsing the Bush administration's appointment of Gale Norton, a Coloradan, as interior secretary.
Still, a large number of environmental groups have praised his selection.
"Ken Salazar knows the West. He knows the land. He knows the communities," said Sharon Bucchino, public-lands director at the Natural Resources Defense Council.
Mark Jaffe: 303-954-1912 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Key issues for the next interior secretary
Environmental advocates and industry executives say the issues include:
• Developing renewable energy resources on public land.
• Balancing oil and gas development with conservation.
• Amending and rewriting BLM plans issued in the past six months that fail to adequately protect land or do not provide for wilderness designations or potential climate-change impacts.
• Developing a plan for oil and gas drilling off the Eastern Seaboard that protects marine environments.
• Revising the endangered-species listing process to once again make it science-based. The Bush administration was criticized in two audits for political interference.
• Developing a more comprehensive management policy for mining on public lands.
About the Department of the Interior
Created by Congress in 1849, the Department of the Interior is the country's primary conservation agency. With more than 70,000 employees and 280,000 volunteers, the department's mission is to provide stewardship of the nation's natural and cultural heritage. The department manages 500 million acres of land, about one-fifth of the land in the United States.
Its land-management divisions include the Bureau of Land Management, the Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Park Service. The department also manages various resources through its Minerals Management Service, the Bureau of Reclamation and the U.S. Geological Survey.
The Bureau of Indian Affairs is part of the Interior Department. The BIA provides services for about 1.7 million American Indians and Alaska Natives.
Source: U.S. Department of the Interior