When U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar returns to Colorado in March, he will leave behind a legacy much deeper than the initials he may carve on his desk in Washington, D.C. It is a legacy steeped in an ethic endemic to Coloradans: that of stewardship.
Salazar is a fifth-generation Coloradan raised in the San Luis Valley in a ranching family. He was later a partner in the family business – one whose success is inextricably tied to proper care of the land on which it is conducted. Furthermore, any business situated in the San Luis Valley affords its proprietors a breathtaking reminder of the treasured natural landscapes that grace the United States. That reminder instills a commitment to caring for those lands in all their many uses.
It is, of course, no easy task to do so – particularly when there is a large and growing demand for the resources contained below the vast public lands and waters managed by the Department of the Interior. Bringing with him a commitment to striking the best balance possible when addressing the friction between preservation and extraction, Salazar led the department effectively, pragmatically and to positive result. That is all the more impressive given the polarized climate in Washington, D.C., during his tenure – a tension that did not leave the Interior Department untouched.
He frequently received criticism from oil and gas industry proponents for obstructing access to the nation’s petroleum reserves – criticism that was unwarranted given the increase in drilling permits seen under Salazar’s leadership. Simultaneously, Salazar took knocks from the conservation community for not doing enough to safeguard public lands and waters from the push to drill. The most visible of these contention points was the Deepwater Horizon drill rig explosion in April 2010 in the Gulf of Mexico. That catastrophe revealed some systemic problems in the Interior Department’s permitting and safety inspection procedures – things that demanded a remedy. Salazar was criticized for issuing an offshore drilling permit moratorium during the immediate aftermath of the disaster, while also taking hits for lifting that moratorium months later. It was a situation that would leave no one wholly satisfied, but Salazar handled it with expediency and acumen.
He also brought a uniquely Colorado land protection and appreciation model to the national level. Perhaps one of his greatest pre-Interior legacies was his crafting of Great Outdoors Colorado, the program that provides lottery funding to land protection and outdoor access across Colorado. Borrowing heavily from GoCo was America’s Great Outdoors, a sweeping initiative designed to connect more Americans to our wealth of public land resources – and ensure that those critical lands receive the care and protection they deserve. The effort sought local input on treasured lands and recreation opportunities and resulted in a grass-roots-generated series of recommendation for securing those opportunities into the future.
Salazar can be proud of these and his many other achievements at the helm of the Interior Department. Coloradans can be proud, too. His return to the state is a significant asset and we look forward to his next role.