The Santa Fe New Mexican

March 8, 2013

By Stuart Wilde

Sometime this March, the U.S. Senate will likely vote on whether to confirm Sally Jewell, President Barack Obama’s nominee for interior secretary. This decision will have a big impact on New Mexico over the next four years and thus bears scrutiny.

As our economy continues to gain strength, Sally Jewell appears to be a very compelling leader to remind Congress and the American people that public lands fuel our economy and create jobs not only through resource extraction — but also by balancing development with conservation to benefit our outdoor recreation and tourism economies.

Ms. Jewell has a compelling business leadership résumé. She has overseen the growth of a $1.8 billion company consistently ranked among the best places to work in the U.S. An engineer by training, she has demonstrated a practical, no-nonsense approach focused on results. She is also passionate about corporate social responsibility; she knows firsthand that being sustainable and being profitable can go hand in hand.

While she is familiar with Washington, D.C., she brings a much-needed perspective of a business leader who has forged a career outside of D.C. partisanship. Ms. Jewell also knows the oil and gas business from the inside — having worked at Mobil Oil. Probably more than almost any CEO in America, she understands the growing economic potential of America’s $646 billion outdoor recreation industry. She was a key stakeholder in discussions to craft the president’s America’s Great Outdoors program, an agenda for the 21st century to support community-driven conservation, initiatives such as getting kids outdoors and conservation investments that sustain local economies.

Parks and public lands in New Mexico lure tourists, recreationists and entrepreneurs eager to embrace our outdoor quality of life. Ms. Jewell knows that to grow our economy, protection of our parks and public lands must be on equal ground with the development of energy resources.

She has a tough act to follow. Under Secretary Ken Salazar’s leadership, the Department of Interior did more to advance the cause of clean-energy development on public lands — including Solar Energy Zones — than any other secretary of the interior in history.

The president’s very public acknowledgement of the value of our natural treasures comes in the nick of time; former Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt recently pointed out that there has been a dramatic decline in public lands conservation, as Congress has become gridlocked. In fact, over the past four years, the oil and gas industry has leased more than 6 million acres of public lands, while only 2.6 million acres were permanently protected. To put conservation on “equal ground” with oil and gas drilling, Babbitt proposed for every 1 acre of our public land leased to the oil and gas industry during Obama’s second term, 1 acre should be permanently protected.

Already, Obama acted when the previous Congress failed to do so by using his authority under the Antiquities Act to protect four National Monuments in Colorado, California and Virginia. The New Mexico Green Chamber of Commerce believes the logical next step would be for the president to use this authority to permanently protect the Rio Grande del Norte as a national monument. That alone would be a $15 million investment in our economy.

Should Ms. Jewell be confirmed, we invite her to meet with New Mexico business owners. We’re eager to help her however we can to embrace this challenge of balancing conservation with development of our public lands heritage. Our state economy and small local businesses depend on it.

Stuart Wilde is the director of Wild Earth Llama Adventures, based out of Taos, and leads low-impact hiking and camping trips into New Mexico’s pristine wilderness areas.