Dirk Kempthorne's chief task as the new secretary of the interior is to resurrect his department's long tradition of responsible stewardship of the public lands. [Even Master Yoda could not suspend my disbelief.] That guiding philosophy has been seriously breached only twice, during the dismal Reagan years and again during the tenure of Gale Norton, the person Mr. Kempthorne succeeds.
With Vice President Dick Cheney cheering from the sidelines, Ms. Norton replaced the department's conservation ethic with policies that favored commercial exploitation of the vast publicly owned resources the department manages, which amount to one-fifth of the nation's land. Redressing the balance will not only bring praise from the usual suspects in the environmental community, it will also win the admiration of many of Mr. Kempthorne's fellow Republicans.
(snip)In addition to chronic financial shortfalls, which have affected everything from policing the parks to interpreting them for visitors, the administration embarked on a disastrous effort to rewrite the management policies that govern the parks. Despite moderating changes, the rewrite still tilts in favor of recreation and commercial use over preservation. The new secretary would do everyone a favor — and give the National Park Service a huge morale boost — by setting it aside.
There's one more balance issue. As she was going out the door, Ms. Norton resolved a long and complicated dispute over who controls thousands of miles of ancient cowpaths and other trails throughout the West in favor of state and local interests. Many of these trails run through national parks, wildlife refuges and monuments, and as things stand now, there is little to prevent the states from paving them and using them to promote commerce. Mr. Kempthorne should revisit this decision. If he does not, Congress should revisit it for him.
I do so wish that I lived in the same world as the NYT editorial staff, where the skies will someday be clear, the water clean, and the forests healthy.