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Interview: Galloping Ahead

Hummingbird tongue twist; Survivor (the bird version); healthy poison; more.


Galloping Ahead
A conversation with the Interior Department chief.

In early may, at Kenilworth Park in Washington, D.C., U.S. Department of the Interior Secretary Ken Salazar announced the release of the 2011 State of the Birds Report, which sounded the alarm that 251 of this country’s 1,000 bird species are in serious danger. Audubon caught up with the cowboy boot–clad Salazar for an exclusive interview about birds and other issues.

What are your favorite birds?
The robin and the bald eagle. The robin has always been a symbol to me of new life and spring. Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring showed that in the 1960s we were headed to a dead, silent world. Hopefully we can continue the conservation efforts of the last decades with the same urgency.

With rising oil prices, there are all sorts of pressures to drill in Alaska.
You have to separate onshore from offshore whenever you’re talking about the Arctic and the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska. The Chukchi Sea is farther out than the Beaufort Sea, so it has a greater degree of uncertainty. The NPR-A itself was set aside for oil and gas development, and there are some very important places where the BLM has leased lands. We should move forward with that development. I have worked very hard on renewables like solar, geothermal, and wind. But I recognize we need to have oil and gas to power our economy. In the NPR-A we want a comprehensive plan that protects very important areas. Teshekpuk Lake, for instance, has unique and wonderful wildlife and is protected as an area of special concern.

Tell us about BP and the Gulf.
It was eight months of hard-knuckled negotiation that I led with BP to get the billion dollars in restoration. I didn’t want the same experience as the Exxon Valdez, where it was litigated forever. The second chapter will happen when Congress acts. I hope they do soon to make sure that moneys collected from the civil penalties support ecological restoration for migratory birds and fish and all the other values, so the Gulf is in even better condition than before the well blew up.

Why is restoration there so important?
We’re starving the Mississippi Delta, putting into danger the fisheries and the wildlife that are so essential to the central flyway. We have an opportunity to reverse the damage caused by the hand of man over the last 100 years.

What would you like your legacy at Interior to be?
We have big dreams to move the conservation agenda forward throughout the country. One of the underpinnings is to have local communities and the states involved. We believe it has to be locally driven to get state support. The second pillar is having private lands be part of this effort without taking these lands out of private ownership. That has been the key to efforts we have initiated in the Everglades, the Flint Hills, and the Dakota grasslands.

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