Break the Cycle: Bring Interior Back to its Roots

A guest opinion by Rick Bass says Terry Tempest Williams for Dept. of Interior-

Bass, a well know writer about the western landscape and wildlife makes an unusual suggestion.

Break the Cycle: Bring Interior Back to its Roots. By Rick Bass. Guest opinion. New West.






  1. jimbob Avatar

    I was hoping to read this article and be convinced based on Tempest Williams’ policies and leanings. All we got was flowery descriptions and not one single quote, nor political stance I hope this article does not get taken seriously. I’m not saying she wouldn’t be qualified. You just can’t tell. I hope the person chosen is vetted thoroughly by environmental and conservation groups.

  2. Mike Avatar

    I’d like to see a Interior head who hasn’t espoused conservation while buying a house right next to a national park. I’d like to see an Interior head who leads by example.

  3. Rick Hammel Avatar
    Rick Hammel

    While I admire TTW as an accomplished author and speaker, I question her ability to run a 67000 person federal agency. As most federal agencies, it is rife with cliques and sub-beaurocracies that take at least 2 years to get thinking along the administration’s line. In other words, whoever takes this job will have a mess on his/her hands. I have to go back to my first inclination: Bill Richardson.

  4. vickif Avatar

    I am inspired by TTW, but feel that the Interior needs direction from the sides of conservation and economy. It is a simple fact that the DOI needs some financial direction, because without that, it cannot hope to accomplish much.

    It aslo needs direction when it comes to conservation that has integrity. (Which is why Schweitzer would be a disaster.) We need a voice and a vision, but we also need to realize that running the DOI is needing a bit of business savvy. It needs funding, and profitability. It needs HR leadership and a succesful person who can place a well planned and thought out model into action.
    I don’t know who would be ideal, but I know who ever it is needs a solid record of standing up, getting it done, and not caring if it pisses off the people who currently hold the puppet strings.

    We have a lot to do, let’s pick someone to do it who posses the “b*&&s” to get it done-male or female.

  5. JimT Avatar

    I gather from the responses to Rick Bass that none of the commentators know Terry personally. I do. She has shown more courage and “b**ls” in her life dealing with the hostilities of the anti environmental, anti-women folks of the West than anyone else that comes to mind. And she continues to emerge as a great person of compassion, wisdom, patience, optimism and hope. More importantly, she cares deeply about the tremendous damage done to the West by the Bush administration, and is committed to seeing it reversed by means political, economic, and social. I would love to see Obama break the usual western governor mold and put someone in there who understands the West in their soul. I doubt that Terry will be the candidate, but I can’t think of many individuals in the country who would serve to inspire the folks of Interior to finally do their jobs based on science and the law more than Terry would. We can’t solve the current problems with the same kinds of thinking and approaches that created them. Whomever Obama nominates, it needs to be a break with tradition, and reflect his committment to a new political paradigm.


  6. Mike Avatar

    JimT – There’s no doubt she’s an excellent author and passionaite about preservation. But I wonder why would someone so passionate about conserving wild places own two homes so close together in the American west, especially right at the edge of Grand Teton NP which is being “hemmed in” by rural sprawl?

    It doesn’t seem like the true “evironmentalist” thing to do. Sure, we have to live somewhere. And a lot of what we do seems to go against what we believe about preservation. But shouldn’t we get an Interior head who leads by example? I know this is a very unpopular issue, but am I wrong? How can you be an evironmentalist and own two homes(especially with one bordering a major NP)?

    In fact, wouldn’t you say that the “true” environmentalists are the ones living in the city in one home, walking to work, putting up with that congested, anti-like existence and not adding to rural sprawl? It would seem that is the case. The people who live “up”, not out. I don’t mean to offend people but it seems to be the stark reality. I especially don’t mean to write off any of her acocmplishments (of which there are many).

    The whole thing seems to fit right into that anti-environmentalist cliche:

    “…the environmentalist is the guy with the cabin in the woods and a house back in town…”

    I guess I ust grow more and more weary of seeing my favorite parks surrounded by ugly rural sprawl.

  7. outsider Avatar

    Oh mike how little you know, those rules are for everybody else, of course its okay for Williams to have serveral homes she probably buys carbon offset credits so her damage to the environment is non exsistant, acctually if she bought more she would acctually be helping the enviroment when she builds her third castle.

  8. vickif Avatar

    working in the public sector to speak out against Bush and his lard heads is one thing, getting the government to manag the environment is another. there is a lot more to getting this done than passion for the environment.
    no, i I do not know Williams personally, but I don’t know Obama personally either….that is not the point. the point is, this is a huge under-taking, and we don’t get a do over…so you are right, we need to break with tradition…but we also need to realize that hope is just hope, and progress requires more than that. we have to have someone in this office who has more than passion, they need political, environmental and economic knowledge. they will have to know how to grease the wheels of progress and keep them moving.
    I am no authority on this, and make no claims to know exactly who we should place in the position, but even a simple girl like me should question if an author is better suited than someone with more expertise in ‘government’.
    perhaps they should appoint a panel to advise the head of the DOI…a common joe, a scientist, an environmentalist, a rancher, a Native American, an economist, a political scientist, and a business manager….no history together, no agenda prior to selection….just approach with no notice, no political ties,…then they’d have a fair representation of the public as a whole, and the range of knowledge it would take to do this, compromise, and progress.

  9. JimT Avatar

    Two thoughts come to mind given the responses.

    One, Terry’s home outside the NP is not at all a trophy house, or anything one would label as impinging on the specialness of the NP system.She also recently was part of a local town group that worked very hard to get some planned development shut down in that area, so she understands the need to limit sprawl.

    I would be worrying more about the snowmobiles, the SUVs, the ATVs, the oil and gas permitting going on at record pace throughout the West, the insane notion of wasting precious water resources on oil shale production…Terry’s house is a minor issue, and shouldn’t serve to distract from her qualifications to be a spokesperson for Interior. There are other questions that are legitimately raised such as her experience at departmental management of that scale. But, unless you bring back Babbit..heaven forbid..or someone like that, that will be concern for most. And again, how to avoid the inevitable coopting that goes on when one is a veteran of DC and its ways? ‘Tis a connundrum…

    Second, I am not sure the model suggested by Vickf is getting the West anywhere except being exploited. Terry has worked within the educational system both as teacher and naturalist, and is more familiar with the pressing issues facing the West and its resources than most folks. And I don’t think anyone, including experienced folks such as Pope or Meadows, leaders of national environmental groups, has a clue how to resurrect Interior at the moment. It has been subjected to the worst kinds of corruptive behaviors in its history, including Watt’s tenure. The front line folks I know in USFS, USFWS, and BLM are so dispirited that I think the usual administrative approach will just fall on deaf ears. They know how to do their jobs; they just haven’t been given the freedom to do so. It may be that an inspirational voice and person such as Terry would be exactly what would be needed. She has served on enough national and regional non profits to understand the issues and the bureaucracy of DC; she has been an activist for virtually all of her life, and is deeply committed to listening to all sides of an issue, and framing a problem solving approach that is inclusive, focused on science, and avoids polarizing the various interest groups. We could do much worse.

    As I said, I am hoping that BO doesn’t follow the usual model of appointing a Western Governor; that model has been a disaster for those of us who think the West and its resources should be treasured, and not simply plundered as a way of rewarding political help during an election. I have heard George Miller’s name mentioned, and that would be a good choice in my opinion if you are looking for DC experience. But keep in mind, the DOI Secretary will only be as effective as the support he or she gets from the Oval Office, and frankly, I am not sure BO understands the West and its issues. So, here’s hoping that whomever is on the Transition Team, they are well versed in the past mistakes, and have concrete notions about proceeding ahead to begin undoing the damage of the last 8 years. I say begin because it will take decades to first arrest the resource giveaways, and second, to enhance and preserve the special areas of the West according to sound ecological principals.

    So, let’s keep our fingers crossed. So far, BO is showing a somewhat troubling propensity for recycling old DC folks instead of getting folks who have new ideas and approaches. I think he is wise to try and avoid the operational and administrative mistakes of Carter by bringing in too many folks who simply didn’t get DC and its arcane ways, but there should be a strong contingent of folks like his core campaign staff who simply didn’t accept past icons, but struck out and created a new way of campaigning that obviously was very successful.

    Keep your fingers crossed.



Dr. Ralph Maughan is professor emeritus of political science at Idaho State University. He was a Western Watersheds Project Board Member off and on for many years, and was also its President for several years. For a long time he produced Ralph Maughan’s Wolf Report. He was a founder of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition. He and Jackie Johnson Maughan wrote three editions of “Hiking Idaho.” He also wrote “Beyond the Tetons” and “Backpacking Wyoming’s Teton and Washakie Wilderness.” He created and is the administrator of The Wildlife News.

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Ralph Maughan