Change ahead on environment under President Obama

Idaho StatesmanNovember 5, 2008 

Western Democrats and environmentalists will have more influence on federal land decisions in Idaho and the West under President Barack Obama.

Decision-makers will defer more to scientists on resource issues and spending priorities will shift toward protecting land, fish and wildlife, Democrats said Tuesday night.

But there is a tension between environmentalists who want him to reverse decisions made by the Bush administration and Western Democrats who hope Obama's pledge to govern in a "post-partisan" manner means he will bring a collaborative approach to public land issues.

"He's not going to make some of the mistakes of the past," said Cecil Andrus, former Idaho governor and Jimmy Carter's interior secretary. "He knows his history."

Issues like climate change and alternative energy - along with the economy - are going to get more attention in the new administration than public lands grazing, logging and motorized recreation. And the skyrocketing federal deficit could force a reorganization of land, water and wildlife agencies now spread out under three different Cabinet departments.

More than 63 percent of Idaho's land is owned by the federal government and managed by the U.S. Forest Service, the Bureau of Land Management and other federal agencies. How these lands are managed is critical to the economies and quality of life in Idaho and all western states.

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