REI CEO tapped to lead U.S. Department of Interior

Sally Jewell enjoying some time on the water - courtesy REI

Sally Jewel is no stranger to male dominated worlds. She’s risen to the top in the oil industry, the banking industry, and the outdoor industry, where she currently serves as the CEO of REI. Now she’s on the cusp of penetrating another: On February 6, President Obama tapped her to lead the U.S. Department of Interior.

Jewell won’t be the first female secretary of Interior. That honor goes to Gale Norton, a conservative republican whom critics often referred to as “James Watt in a skirt”.

(DIVA NOTE: Watt notoriously resigned after serving as Ronald Reagan’s Interior Secretary from 1981 to 1983. His controversial tenure was marked by hostility to environmentalism and enthusiastic support of development and use of public lands for grazing, natural resource extraction, and other money making enterprises.)

But back to Sally. Her appointment—if approved by Congress—would install a smart, tough, accomplished woman into one of the most powerful seats in government. The U.S. Department of Interior (DOI) administers one of the most diverse set of programs in the federal government. Among the agency’s many purviews, here are some of the most prominent:

  • Managing vast holdings of public lands (one in every five acres in the U.S. is managed by the DOI)
  • Managing hundreds of dams and aqueducts in the West
  • Indian affairs
  • Conservation programs
  • Scientific Research
  • Arts and Museums
  • Climate Change
  • Wildlife management
  • Energy Resource management
  • Offshore drilling
  • Mining
  • Historic preservation
  • National parks

What does this mean for the newest Interior Secretary? A lot.

We’re at a crossroads in public land use and management. Controversy over natural gas extraction via fracking (a process that uses vast amounts of water to break up underground shale and release gas reserves) has reached a high pitch.

Climate change is widely recognized as being real, and, at least in part, human-caused (sorry Glenn Beck). Real leadership is necessary to reduce carbon emissions. The DOI supports important scientific research that is critical for informing policy makers.

There are several endangered species success stories under our belts (hello, wolves), but more that need attention like grizzly bears and wolverines.

More, we need to have a nationwide discussion about public lands management and access. Our country was founded on natural resource extraction, and the policies in place ensure that will always be a component of public land management.

But geography is changing due to climate change. The powers that be are trying to lock up pristine places for commercial exploitation. We in the outdoor industry want a strong leader in Washington who is willing to stand up to those powerful interests.

By all accounts, Sally Jewell is that person.

As the CEO of REI, Jewell has demonstrated a commitment to the outdoors through the company’s myriad conservation programs.

An outdoorswoman who lists mountaineering and kayaking among her hobbies, Jewell served on the “National Parks Second Century Commission,” whose goal was to help shape the future of the National Parks System. She has received several awards recognizing her work in environmental conservation.

She also brings a dose of diversity into Obama’s administration, which has been largely criticized for being comprised of white men.

If that’s not a win for a Mountain Diva, we don’t know what is. Go Sally Jewell!