Senate confirms Jewell as Secretary of Interior

Sally JewellThe Senate voted on Wednesday 87 to 11 to confirm the nomination of Sally Jewell as the new Secretary of Interior, replacing Ken Salazar. After being sworn in she will oversee 500,000,000 acres of public land, including the wildland fire management activities of the National Park Service, Bureau of Land Management, Fish and Wildlife Service, and Bureau of Indian Affairs.

Ms. Jewell, 56, will resign from her job as the chief executive officer of Recreational Equipment Inc. (REI), a company that sells outdoor clothing and equipment. Born in England as Sally Roffey, Ms. Jewell moved to the United States in 1959 when her father, an anesthesiologist, took up a fellowship at the University of Washington. After she graduated from the University of Washington with a degree in mechanical engineering she worked for Mobile Oil in the oil fields of Oklahoma for three years. After that she became a petroleum engineer for Rainier Bank during a time when banks began to hire engineers to understand the value of collateral under the ground so that they could make intelligent loans. Rainier Bank was acquired by Security Pacific, and Ms. Jewell ran their business banking activities.

After 20 years in the banking industry she became a board member of REI, and in 2000 was hired as their chief operating officer. In 2010 the company had 118 stores and $1.7 billion in sales. She represents a break from the past Secretaries of Interior, who have primarily been career politicians from the western United States.

Ms. Jewell sits on the board of the National Park Conservation Association, an organization that is not officially connected with the government or the National Park Service.

During the confirmation process, Ms. Jewell mentioned the word “fire” once in her written statement prepared for the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee:

The President has made clear that climate change is an important issue for our nation, especially as we face more frequent and intense droughts, wildfires and floods. I commit to tapping into the vast scientific and land management resources at Interior – from USGS to the Fish and Wildlife Service to the Bureau of Reclamation and beyond – to better understand and prepare for the challenges that our cities, coastlines, river basins and – ultimately – our economies face.

A video recording of her 2 hour and 43 minute Senate confirmation hearing is on the C-SPAN web site.

As Wildfire Today told you on February 8, Timothy Egan wrote a noteworthy article about the nomination of Ms. Jewell for the New York Times. Here is how it begins:

The emperor of the American outdoors usually wears a cowboy hat, for the lashing dust and searing sun in the domain of the Interior Department, one-fifth of the United States. James Watt, the most small-minded head of that agency in modern times, wore one. So did Ken Salazar, the outgoing secretary.

Don’t expect to see Sally Jewell, who is President Obama’s nominee for Interior secretary, in a showy Stetson. Running shoes, yes. Climbing helmet, of course. Cycling tights, no doubt. If confirmed, Jewell would be one of the few directors of that vast department to actually share the passions of the majority of people who use the 500 million acres of public land under Interior’s control.

It’s not just that Jewell has climbed Mount Rainier, kayaked innumerable frothy waterways, skied and snowboarded double-diamond runs. Nor that, as chief executive of the nation’s largest consumer cooperative — Recreational Equipment Inc., the retailer known as REI — she knows that Americans spend more money on outdoor equipment than they do on pharmaceuticals or gasoline.


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Author: Bill Gabbert

After working full time in wildland fire for 33 years, he continues to learn, and strives to be a Student of Fire.