Sally Jewell: She’s No James Watt

Editor’s Note: It’s been a busy speaking season this winter for Jim DuFresne but his last gig is this Saturday when he will appear at the author’s table at 11:45 a.m. at the Midwest Fly Fishing Expo at Macomb Community College Sports & Expo Center, 14500 E.12 Mile Road, in Warren. After that you’ll find Jim out on the trail. For more on the expo see the show’s web site.

By Jim DuFresne

I’ve spent a lot of time in National Parks, national forests and other parcels of federally-owned land and twice I’ve met the person responsible for their upkeep and protection; the Secretary of the Interior.

Jim DuFresne

Jim DuFresne

The first time was in 1981. I was living in Juneau, Alaska and a friend who was newscaster invited me to join him at the state capitol where James Watt was going to to address the Alaska legislature.

President Ronald Reagan’s choice for Secretary of the Interior was a controversial and polarizing figure. He endorsed the rampant development of federal lands by foresters and ranchers, sought to eliminate regulations for oil and mining companies, and once directed the National Park Service to draft legislation that would have de-authorized a number of National Parks. He accepted the position saying “we will mine more, drill more, cut more timber.”

A 1981 demonstration against James Watt in Juneau, Alaska

A 1981 demonstration against James Watt in Juneau, Alaska, complete with chainsaws.

The day he arrived in Juneau hundreds gathered outside the capitol with their chainsaws and just when Watt stepped up to the podium inside they revved them up and held them high in the air. You couldn’t hear yourself think much less Watt speak.

The second time was in 2008 when I was invited to a reception celebrating the opening of a new REI store in Ann Arbor. Addressing a crowd of local environmental groups, outdoor clubs and conservation organizations that evening was Sally Jewell, president and CEO of REI.

Later, when Jewell was inspecting the displays of outdoor equipment while sipping a glass of wine, two of us walked up and struck a conversation with her.

She had never been in Michigan before other than to change planes in Detroit and immediately engaged us in where we go to hike, kayak and mountain bike, activities she said she thoroughly enjoys. She was impressed with our descriptions of wild places like Sleeping Bear Dunes and Isle Royale National Park and laughed when we told her that the Upper Peninsula was such a wonderful outdoor playground we call it “God’s Country.”

We chatted for more than 15 minutes, she was that approachable.

Sally Jewell, President Barack Obama’s nomination to be the next Secretary of the Interior, is not James Watt. For that we should all be thankful.

While Jewell’s background includes stints as an oil company engineer and a commercial banker, since 2005 she has served as chief executive of REI and has earned national recognition for her support of outdoor recreation and habitat conservation. Supporters say she is an ideal candidate to balance the agency’s sometimes conflicting mandates between promoting resource development and preserving the nation’s natural heritage.

If nominated, she has her work cut out for her. She will take over a department that has been embroiled in controversy over the regulation of oil and gas on public lands and in the Gulf of Mexico and Arctic Ocean. She also will be the steward of hundreds of millions of acres of public lands, from the Everglades of Florida to the Cascades of Washington State.

I hope she is nominated for the simple reason she’s one of us, somebody who heads outdoors to unwind from urban stresses or challenges herself to new heights. Literally, because Jewell is also a mountain climber.

Sally Jewell,

Sally Jewell, President Barack Obama’s nomination to be Secretary of the Interior.

A native of the Seattle area and a graduate of the University of Washington with a degree in mechanical engineering, Jewell has been a lifelong outdoors enthusiast. As a child she sailed with her family in the Puget Sound and camped throughout the Pacific Northwest, as an adult said she has climbed Mount Rainier in the state of Washington and Vinson Massif, the highest mountain in Antarctica. She bikes to work.

But what impressed me the most that evening in Ann Arbor was Jewell’s passion for getting children outdoors as a way to save the environment. The younger, the better. Wait too long and they rarely develop that enthusiasm for the outdoors when they are adults.

Thus she doesn’t see other outdoor shops scattered across Michigan as competitors, rather cohorts in an effort to promote trail development and outdoor recreation and to encourage support of public lands and parks. We’re all in this together.

“Our competitors are TV, video games and kids who are over scheduled,” Jewell said.

That’s something I never heard James Watt say.

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This entry was posted in Alaska, Backpacking, Camping, Cycling, Isle Royale National Park, Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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