Interior Secretary Sally Jewell made her final stop in Boise Tuesday during her last month as an Obama administration official. Jewell was briefed by wildfire officials at the National Interagency Fire Center about a landmark policy she put in place during her tenure.
The policy redirected wildfire resources to prevent rangeland fires. The initiative for the first time directed federal resources to the sagebrush steppe ecosystem, habitat that supports about 350 animal species. Jewell says she's hopeful the Trump administration will continue the policy.
“It’s easy to throw resources at a big massive fire, but it’s not a smart way to use resources," Jewell says. "And an administration that talks about wanting to bring business sense and efficiency into government spending, this is an area where I think they'll find ripe territory ... to gain a long-term return on that investment."
But Jewell expressed frustration at Congress for not reforming how wildfires are funded. Under the current system, wildfires that rack up large bills are often paid for using funds meant to prevent blazes, a practice known as "fire borrowing." Western politicians, including members of Idaho's Congressional delegation, have instead supported funding catastrophic wildfires the same as hurricanes or other natural disasters.
“I will remain optimistic that when we have full control by one party that there’s no one to blame but themselves for not moving forward on this issue that has been bipartisan, but very much impacts people in the West and the Republican Party is well-represented in the West. So perhaps we’ll see some movement.”
Jewell told reporters that she’s spoken by phone with her expected successor, Republican Montana Rep. Ryan Zinke, and will meet with him in D.C. in the coming weeks. She’s hopeful he’ll bring his knowledge as a western politician with him to the Interior Department.
The former CEO of outdoor gear retail giant REI says she’s planning to move back to Seattle after a long and slow roadtrip from D.C. at the end of the month. She says she’ll enjoy much of the nation’s public lands on her trek – land she’s overseen for the last three years.
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