I’ve been praying a progressive mantra for weeks that Obama would select conservation minded Congressman Raul Grijalva (D-AZ) as Secretary of the Interior. Obama has to throw progressives at least one cabinet bone, right?
A coalition of 106 conservation groups lobbied publicly on behalf of Grijalva (shown here). As an advocate for predator species in Alaska, I was particularly impressed with Grijalva’s sponsorship of the Bear Protection Act (H.R. 5533), which would limit the poaching and torture of bears for their gall bladders (used in Chinese medicine).
But instead of Grijalva, Obama chose a Colorado cowboy. Every time I see soon to be Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar (D-CO) in his ten-gallon hat, I can’t help but cringe at how unprogressive it is to put a life long rancher in charge of our nation’s wildlife and the wild spaces that they inhabit.
Ranchers have always had an adversarial relationship with wildlife. This relationship has shaped and controlled wildlife management as long as there has been wildlife management. Since predators such as wolves and coyotes do prey upon small numbers of livestock, farmers and ranchers view them as vermin to be exterminated. This ideology has had devastating effects on the western landscape, and is the reason why large predators have been nearly eradicated from the continental US.
In any western state on any given day you can find government employees dutifully killing the few predators that are left in the country. In Wyoming full time workers trap and shoot from airplanes as many coyotes as possible and stuff gas bombs down their dens. Arizona Game and Fish shot 400 coyotes from the air in a single day. In Alaska, where wildlife actually still exists in abundance, the slaughter is at its worst. This year a $150 bounty was placed on wolves, over 60% of the black bear population west of Anchorage was targeted for extermination, and Game and Fish authorized shooting wolf pups and black bear mothers with cubs. This is the legacy of the ranching culture.
Kieran Suckling, executive director of the Center for Biological Diversity, believes Salazar’s agricultural background should trouble conservationists. She states,
“He comes from an agricultural state. He comes personally from an agricultural background. And what we’ve seen is, when water issues or endangered species issues in any way suggest that agriculture has to be reformed, he pretty routinely comes down on the side of agriculture.”
This leaves me pessimistic that Salazar will side with wildlife, like Yellowstone’s wolves who are being shot by ranchers when they cross park boundaries.
Equally troubling is the fact that Salazar has a history of endorsing anti-environmental candidates. While Attorney General, Salazar endorsed Bush’s nomination of fellow Coloradan Gale Norton as Secretary of Interior. Norton initiated a series of scandals that have rocked the Interior. They include tampering with scientific evidence, the improper removal of species and habitats from the endangered species list, and handing over internal documents to oil industry lobbyists. Is Salazar really the appropriate candidate to clean up Norton’s corruption?
Salazar also seems to have his own bone to pick with wildlife. As Colorado attorney general, Salazar threatened to sue the US Fish and Wildlife Service over their protection of endangered species. As Secretary of the Interior, Salazar will be in control of the US Fish and Wildlife Service, whose power to protect endangered species he once sought to erode.
For the last century wildlife has been exclusively managed by people with an invested interest in killing wildlife. To truly promote change in regards to land use and wildlife policy Obama would have chosen a Secretary of Interior who actually wants to protect wildlife and their habitats.
But instead I present to you Senator Salazar – rancher, hunter “outdoorsman” and avid gun supporter. Do you think he will stand up to sport hunters, the NRA or ranchers who have dictated US wildlife policy forever? We will have to wait and see. I fear, however, that Salazar is another example of change that progressives are struggling to believe in.
Jessica Teel is a volunteer wildlife rehabilitator and freelance writer who studies grizzly bears in Alaska. Read about her work with Alaska’s grizzlies and wolves at www.grizzlybay.org.
Copyrighted photo of bears by Jessica Teel.