Thoughts from the Executive Director
We chose the theme of this year's WestWord, Results Driven by Leadership, for good reason. The Sonoran Institute's success as a conservation organization is judged by the results we deliver, and achieving positive results requires inspired community leadership. For this reason, leadership training and development has always been a core focus of the Institute. Our ability to deliver results depends on our success in cultivating leadership at all levels—and helping these leaders become better stewards of the environment.
On the eve of President Obama's inauguration, I identified three key policy areas vital to protecting the West's land¬scapes and vast natural resources: better management and protection for public lands, and meaningful commitments to clean, renewable energy and public transportation. It is refreshing to see inspired national leadership and true progress on these issues over the last eight months.
We celebrated an early public lands victory with the passage of the Omnibus Public Land Management Act of 2009, which included recognition and protection for the 26 million-acre National Landscape Conservation System (NLCS). The Insti¬tute has worked since 1999 to get Congress to formally rec¬ognize the NLCS, and provide additional funding to protect these "crown jewel" public lands. Leadership credit goes to Representative Raul Grijalva, who played a vital role in craft¬ing and shepherding the Omnibus Act to President Obama's desk. Arizona is fortunate to have a conservation champion such as Representative Grijalva working for the West's com¬munities and public lands.
Public Lands Leadership
Two key Obama administration appointments portend additional positive land and resource management changes; the appointment of Bob Abbey as the new Director of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the nomination of Jon Jarvis to lead the National Park Service (NPS).
As the primary architect of the Great Basin Restoration Initiative, Abbey brings experi¬ence and big-picture thinking to a crucial agency that oversees more land in the West than the other federal agencies combined. Abbey is the first career BLM professional appointed to direct the agency, a strong statement of support for profes¬sional management of our public lands.
Jarvis is also a federal service veteran, bringing three de¬cades of hands-on experience with NPS. In his confirmation hearings, Jarvis, a trained biologist, identified environmental sustainability for the 84 million-acre park system as a key pri¬ority. Having worked with both, I am delighted at the appoint¬ment of true professionals to run these key federal agencies.
Policy Changes Signaled
Since the 1950s, federal transportation spending has focused almost entirely on roads and highways. With its economic stimulus package, the Obama administration has signaled a shift in policy by providing big money for high-speed and intercity rail, buses, bicycle paths and other projects to help us rediscover the joys of our communities. The $8 billion Obama directed toward high-speed rail development dwarfs previous federal investments in this area.
Notwithstanding these encouraging moves, the country still needs real leadership to push clean, renewable energy. The opportunity for well-planned and well sited solar and wind energy projects in the West is particularly inviting and this push needs to include private, state, and public lands. How¬ever, we must avoid turning over control of these decisions to land speculators and we must not repeat the fire-sale ap-proach the Bush administration employed with oil and gas development. Drawing on experience from our Community Energy Futures Institute, we are working to create a frame¬work for the Sonoran Desert that advances renewable energy while minimizing the impacts on wildlife and public lands.
The stories in WestWord are a testament to our track record of solid conservation and smart growth results in the West, driven by our excellent team and the many extraordinary partners we work with from Mexico to Montana. None of this would be possible without your support. Thank you for continuing to help us inspire leaders and shape the future of the West in a way that makes us all proud.