March 15, 2006
Norton's out, who's next?
Interior Secretary Gale Norton announced this weekend she'll leave her job by month's end . Norton, the first female to head the Interior Department, was widely known as a protege of Reagan's anti-environmental Interior Secretary James Watt, and as a friend to mining, energy and logging interests. Among her more significant acts as Secretary, she reversed a Clinton-era ban on snowmobiles in Yellowstone, halted Grizzly reintroduction to Idaho, doubled public land drilling permits, eliminated Wilderness Study Area status for millions of acres in Utah, and handed management and recovery of wolves to the states. One of her most significant forest-related efforts was an attempt to free up from the guidelines of the Northwest Forest Plan 2.5 million acres of BLM land in Western Oregon, making them available for commercial logging.
The New York Times, echoing the sentiments of many conservation and environmental groups, editorialized "Ms. Norton has been an extraordinarily faithful steward of the Bush agenda — but not, we are sad to say, of the lands she was obliged to protect."
There is some speculation that her reasons for leaving now have to do with the scandal brewing over the ties between disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff and Steven Griles, her former deputy Secretary, though Norton has repeatedly denied this.
What remains unwritten is how Norton's legacy will be seen in the future - as a lone rightward swing in a Department gradually growing more conservation-minded, or as the beginning of a trend towards less Federal regulation and more state-level involvement in land and resource management.