Did Obama Misfire on Salazar at Interior?

by Jessica Teel –

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

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.


  1. says

    Jessica and Yoshidad have it right, at best.

    Obama’s cabinet picks – at least Salazar for Interior and Vilsack for Agriculture – are precisely what they seem – gratuitously injurious, for short-term-profit-as-usual and eco-immorality as usual. Michael Pollan was right to protest Vilsack, whose selection and acceptance made no mention of ag policy as above all food policy. Given the horrid impact of Vilsack’s USA establishment agriculture – not only for inhumane treatment of animals, unbridled promotion of GMOs, and promotion of human disease – Dr Chu’s assignment at Energy looks to be window-dressing.

    So Obamatically we can expect more Bush-ido. As a couple of thrown bones to a ‘progressive’ agenda (which in these two instances is scarcely progressive but equates just to economic survival) expect also some splashy token actions on what will be dubbed ‘health care’ (e.g. to re-insure insurance companies) and on climate change (e.g. some gee-whiz energy demo technology).

    Obama obviously does NOT get it. Our present unsustainable courses owe not merely to temporary deficiencies in budget priorities or to delays in arrival of panacea technology. They owe rather to a combination of deliberately erroneous (and unethical) choices and actions in resource management and amazingly unenlightened and even masochistic greed in mass-promoted ‘4F’ choices: on food, fuels, and other fads and fashions.

    Yes, I had higher hopes and donated to the campaign. No doubt, by continuing to look a tad more intelligent than Bush, at term’s end Obama will still look a tad better than would have the Palin-McCain option.

    All this is predictably and precisely yet another sad reason that we need a movement not confined to, nor focusing on, merely urging nicer and more ‘progressive’ policies on the USA’s Constitutionally oligarchic legislature and King-for-Four-Years.

    Rather, we need need to do away with oligarchy altogether. We need to be small-d democrats! We need to stop venerating the nearly fossilized USA constitution and instead insist on its periodic modernization (per Jefferson 1816), at least in order to introduce more democracy at all levels.

    It makes little difference how our official oligarchy is created – whether by in-group appointment, or by expensive mass elections providing ordinary citizens a venerated constitutional show but not substance of power, or by other oligarchy-selection methods that are being sold as somehow more ‘progressively correct’ (e. g. long-term legislators chosen by ‘clean money’ or ‘proportional representation’).

    No matter how the oligarchy is chosen, Lord Acton’s warning (1887) applies: the resulting concentration of power will tend to corrupt – i.e. lead otherwise nice people to sell out, for private advantage, sound public policy and the public good. The reasons should be obvious: – concentrated power provides, if not motive, then anyhow means and opportunity. There are democratic decision-making methods which, by dispersing power, are far less or not at all corrupting. In particular, public policy decision and its precautionary review can and should be delegated to randomly selected or short-term-rotated citizen juries, so that no oligarchy of officials can long or indeed ever monopolize public-policy making.

  2. Mike says

    All of you are putting the cart before the horse. Perhaps we should all wait and see exactly what happens before we jump off the bridge on this issue. Also, we need to give Obama some space as he begins to tackle the mess that has been left over from the last 8 years. Obama is a smart man. If he sees that things are not going right in this area, I am sure that he will take steps to correct the problem.

  3. Yoshidad says

    This is fairly typical of Obama’s choices. They are mighty weak tea, unless his version of “change” is of “The more things change, the more they stay the same” variety.

    You can see this same tendency in his appointments of Wall St. insiders/deregulators to Treasury, and economics advisory positions, in his appointment of a hawk like Hillary to State Dept., in his appointment of Vilsack to Agriculture (my vote for the worst choice), etc.

    The only hopeful sign I can see is that he’s got a real scientist at Energy.

    I’m not that sympathetic to the notion that Obama can, like Lincoln, manage to herd this “team of rivals” in a different direction than they’re already headed, too. Even Lincoln deferred to his cabinet.

    Lincoln’s worst decision: sticking to the 160 acre homesteading rule when California’s dry farming required far larger parcels to be viable. This meant the crooks had to assemble parcels homesteaded by drunks and drifters to make the California ranching oligarchy that persists until today. “Honest Abe” did this at the request of one of his cabinet members.

    The danger here is that Obama will believe progressives are a constituency he can take for granted. Nader and Kucinich have been telling us he’s the more they say the same since the beginning. We’ve been the victims of our own wishful thinking here.

    And for heaven’s sake, let’s protest these choices rather than Rick Warren (a distraction, IMHO).

  4. Kathy says

    Maybe the article will get to OBAMA somehow and he can demand the changes needed to protect our wildlife. I hope so. I really enjoyed Jessica’s article. It’s amazing at the knowledge she has and such a heart and passion for the animals. God Bless her!!!!

  5. John says

    Amazing article! It really saddens me that Obama picked this cowboy instead of the progressive Grijalva. I’m very disappointed in many of Obama’s cabinet picks but the Salazar pick is the most upsetting.

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