By PAUL FOY and NICHOLAS RICCARDI
SALT LAKE CITY (AP) â¿¿ She doesn't wear a cowboy hat favored by traditional picks for interior secretary. Sally Jewell prefers fleece and Gore-Tex jackets and wears a safety helmet when she needs it for scaling cliffs, skiing or kayaking.
Jewell, the 57-year-old chief of Recreational Equipment Inc., represents a new face for a cabinet post more often associated with ranching or oil, gas and mining development. The fact that a mountain-climbing CEO of an outdoors company is President Barack Obama's nominee underscores a new reality in Washington and beyond: the growing influence of outdoor recreation as a political and economic force.
"It's a total game-changer â¿¿ a recognition of changes in how public lands are used," said Peter Metcalf, president and CEO of Salt Lake City-based Black Diamond Inc., a maker of ski and climbing gear and apparel. "Politics in Washington have finally caught up with reality."
While past interior secretaries have ranged from conservationists, like former Arizona Gov. Bruce Babbitt, to allies of industry like Reagan's first Interior Secretary James G. Watt, they always have been challenged by the competing forces that want to use the federal government's vast lands. That tension doesn't figure to ease under Jewell, who faced her first Senate hearing Thursday and is expected to be confirmed in coming weeks.
Critics complain that the outdoor industry has worked to lock up valuable lands and stymie development in the West. Though oil and gas trade groups aren't opposing Jewell, the nomination of a woman who has a led a recreation-focused company with 128 stores in 31 states alarms some who argue that she might favor her own industry over others.
Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah said the recreation industry is "a special interest group like any other .... They have clearly wanted their industry to have a primary position on certain pieces of land."