A cabinet chief with pull

The nomination of REI’s Sally Jewell to serve as U.S. Secretary of Interior marks a sea change in President Obama’s approach to public lands and conservation. Ken Salazar, the current Interior head, has been a seldom-seen profile in inertia. The do-little MO symbolized the department’s low priority for a first-term Obama freighted by the Great Recession.

With Jewell, the president recruited a get-it-done executive with a visceral understanding of the environmental and economic value of America’s National Parks. He’s also tapped a cabinet member who sees our natural heritage through a Northwest lens, cognizant of the thread that binds wild places, people, outdoor recreation and the economy.

“Sally has walked our trails, paddled in the Sound and climbed our mountains,” Rep. Rick Larsen said. “I have no doubt that she will be an outstanding advocate for the Pacific Northwest. I look forward to working with Sally on issues important to our economy and environment, starting with the designation of the San Juan Islands National Monument.”

The San Juan Islands National Monument is a no-brainer and the first test of Jewell’s arm-twisting savvy. For decades islanders have embraced the natural gems that comprise the San Juan Islands National Conservation Area proposal, elbowing for added protection of places such as Turn Point on Stuart Island along with Patos Island. These are unique, radiant landscapes, key habitat for nesting falcons, marine mammals, bald eagles and rare plants.

Gaining access to these natural areas is essential to the local community. The windfall from wildlife viewing, kayaking, and hiking ripples out to the regional economy, as visitors rent boats, shop, and frequent hotels. It’s why 150 San Juan Island businesses and the local chamber signed a letter encouraging President Obama to exercise his authority under the 1906 Antiquities Act.

There’s more. Jewell could elbow for action on a White Cloud Mountains National Monument in Idaho. She could work with a recalcitrant and wilderness-averse Congress, reminding them of the $289 billion outdoor-recreation industry which is the source of 6.5 million jobs. Jewell’s business-centric rationale could move well-studied proposals such as the bipartisan effort to create a Pratt River Wilderness and the Wild Olympics Wilderness.

Presupposing that Jewell lasts all four years of Obama’s second term, she will oversee the centennial of the National Park Service in 2016. Her role advancing America’s Great Outdoors initiative will inform the anniversary. She understands rule one, to get young people and families outdoors and connected to wild places.

In an interview with the SeattlePI.com’s Joel Connelly, former Idaho Governor and Interior Secretary Cecil Andrus said that the key is to think big. Perhaps everyone in public service should hang a sign in their office that reads, “memento mori, remember you will die.” Time is short, and Jewell will hold sway on a range of key challenges from Northwest coal trains, to Indian affairs, to drilling in Alaska’s National Petroleum Reserve. She has the talent and hopefully the access and pull to leave a permanent legacy.

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