Editorial: A Jewell of a selection

President's pick to head Interior bodes well for our national park
Feb. 11, 2013 @ 12:01 AM

The person who runs the U.S. Department of Interior can have a major impact on how the national parks are operated and funded, since the department includes the National Park Service. By almost every measure, President Obama has chosen well in his choice of outdoor business executive Sally Jewell to lead Interior.

Her nomination has been praised by conservation and business interests — two constituencies not often aligned on issues. Sierra Club executive director Michael Brune called Jewell a champion in the effort to connect children with nature and said she has “a demonstrated commitment to preserving the higher purposes public lands hold for all Americans —  recreation, adventure, and enjoyment,” AP reported. The Western Energy Alliance, which represents the oil and natural gas industry in the West, also praised the nomination. “Her experience as a petroleum engineer and business leader will bring a unique perspective to an office that is key to our nation’s energy portfolio,” said Tim Wigley, the group’s president.

With those endorsements, it appears Jewell won’t have any problem getting confirmed. But more importantly, it looks like the president has chosen someone who appreciates and understands the value of our national parks and shares the president’s desire to see more public lands set aside for preservation.

Jewell is president and chief executive at REI, a chain of outdoor stores — the closest ones to us are in Nashville and Asheville. She supports outdoor recreation and habitat conservation. The president also made note of Jewell’s experience as an engineer in oil fields and her record at REI, which sells clothing and gear for outdoor use.

“She knows the link between conservation and good jobs. She knows that there’s no contradiction between being good stewards of the land and our economic progress — that, in fact, those two things need to go hand and hand,” Obama said at a White House ceremony.

Jewell would replace current Interior Secretary Ken Salazar if confirmed by the Senate. He will step down in March.  

Of course she’ll only have the job around four years, assuming whomever is elected president in 2016 will want their own Interior secretary, but that’s four years with an opportunity to have an impact and learn the special needs of national parks, especially ours.

The nation’s most visited national park faces constant financial challenges, since no admission fee is charged. Perhaps Superintendent Dale Ditmanson and our congressional delegation could work now to invite Jewell to Sevier County to see the Smokies and learn of their special needs.