Sen. Ken Salazar, President-elect Barack Obama’s nominee for Secretary of Interior, has been a bridge-building environmental leader in Colorado for over a decade and a personally committed land steward before that. He understands the land, water, and people of the west and the intricate connections among those key features of our natural and social landscape.
While I typically agree with Mr. Salazar’s positions and actions on public policy, I have winced at a few of his choices. In all instances, however, I have always appreciated the inclusive, thoughtful, and open-minded way in which he approaches those decisions and discussions leading to them.
Days after he was elected to the United States Senate, Mr. Salazar asked The Wilderness Society and others for our recommendations for land preservation — new wilderness designations, new national parks, and such. We delivered our list, and he has successfully negotiated and translated two key portions of that list into wilderness legislation that is poised for approval early in the new year.
During the detailed work on the Rocky Mountain National Park wilderness bill and on legislation creating the Dominguez-Escalante national conservation area and, within that, the Dominguez Canyon Wilderness, Mr. Salazar and his staff have be very responsive to our insistent requests for strong and uncompromised protection, even as they were getting pressure from those who oppose those designations. In doing that, he has been able to use his style and his position to persuade many wilderness skeptics to support the measure.
Taking on all the issues in the immense landscape managed by the Department of the Interior is a huge shift from working specifically on Colorado lands and water.
My experience suggests that Mr. Salazar will make that leap in a strong and effective way, bringing to that new work the lessons of inclusion and the undeniable importance of protecting our best lands.
Editor's Note: Steve Smith, The Wilderness Society’s assistant regional director for Colorado and Utah, has worked with U.S. Sen. Ken Salazar and his staff for ten years on issues including streamflow protection, wilderness legislation, national park wildlands protection, oil shale regulations, Roan Plateau management and protection, general energy policy, and open space acquisition. Steve lives in Glenwood Springs, Colorado, on the western slope of the Rocky Mountains.