Looking back on Obama

 

In the dark days of early December, just a month after the election of President-elect Donald Trump, Idaho Conservation League Director Rick Johnson and Idaho Congressman Mike Simpson joined a couple of hundred folks at Boise’s City Club for a nostalgic celebration. They were being lauded for the passage of the Boulder-White Clouds Wilderness bill, which they had both worked on for decades and which President Barack Obama had signed the year before.

President Barack Obama speaks at the Copper Mountain Solar 1 facility, in Boulder City, Nevada, in March 2012. At the time, the facility was the largest operating photovoltaic plant in the United States.
Ethan Miller/Getty Images

Simpson, a Republican, delivered an impassioned talk about the enduring value of public lands and wilderness. “His words could have been my words,” recalls Johnson.

The Boulder-White Clouds bill was one of only a handful of legislative successes during the Obama administration. Facing a stubbornly hostile Congress, our 44th president resorted time and again to his executive powers to move policy forward. For public lands, that often meant using the Antiquities Act to create new national monuments; Obama, in fact, has created more than any president in history. But it was the determination of Simpson and the conservation community to find common ground that ultimately made a legislative solution possible in conservative Idaho.

It’s hard to imagine such bipartisan collaboration now, or in the months ahead. Trump’s picks for his transition team and Cabinet, together with a Republican-controlled Congress, likely mean intense battles over lands, energy development and environmental regulations, not to mention immigration, trade and health care. In addition to very public media scraps, there will be epic fights between Trump appointees and longtime federal bureaucrats. It remains unclear how much of Obama’s legacy will survive. In this issue, we take a look at Obama’s impact on the West, regardless of the future. It’s a way of looking back, before we tackle what lies ahead.

Rick Johnson got his start during the Reagan years, when he signed a Sierra Club petition demanding that Reagan dismiss his evangelically pro-development Interior secretary, James Watt. To him, the election sends a clear signal that the conservation community needs to move rapidly from offense to defense. It’s a familiar transition for many longtime activists, yet the current level of anxiety is unprecedented.

Executive Director and Publisher Paul Larmer

“It’s like you are on a river trip camped at a beach, and you can hear, but not see, the massive rapids below,” Johnson says. His advice to colleagues: “If you spend all your time imagining the rocks, then that’s exactly where you’ll end up tomorrow.” Instead, he recommends, get a good night’s sleep. Then tackle the rapids by defending the common values that unite Westerners — clean water, clean air, public lands.

And, I would add, look for opportunities to forge unexpected alliances. There will be a lot of different boats navigating the churning waters ahead, and you never know who will end up in the river. Carrying extra oars and life jackets makes sense.

High Country News Classifieds
  • CONSERVATION DIRECTOR
    Carbondale based public lands advocate, Wilderness Workshop, seeks a Conservation Director to help direct and shape the future of public land conservation on the West...
  • DEPUTY DIRECTOR FOR WATER PLANNING WITH WRA'S HEALTHY RIVERS PROGRAM
    Founded in 1989, Western Resource Advocates (WRA) is dedicated to protecting the Wests land, air, and water to ensure that vibrant communities exist in balance...
  • TROUT UNLIMITED BIGHORN RIVER BASIN PROJECT MANAGER
    The Bighorn River Basin Project Manager identifies and implements projects to improve streamflows, restore stream and riparian habitat, improve fish passage and rehabilitate or replace...
  • NON-PROFIT OPERATIONS MANAGER
    One of the most renowned community-based collaboratives in the country seeks full-time Operations Manager to oversee administrative, financial, fund development, and board development duties. BS/BA...
  • RUSTIC HORSE PROPERTY
    in NM. 23 acres, off the grid, rustic cabin, organic gardens, fruit trees, fenced, call 505-204-8432 evenings.
  • DIRECTOR OF VISITOR SERVICES & BOOKSTORE OPERATIONS
    The San Juan Mountains Association in Durango, CO is seeking a Director of Visitor Services & Bookstore Operations to lead our visitor information program &...
  • PROGRAM MANAGER
    The Board of Diablo Trust is seeking applications for full-time Program Manager with duties of overseeing the coordination and administration of the Diablo Trusts ongoing...
  • SOLAR POWERED HOME NEAR CAPITOL REEF NATIONAL PARK
    1800 sf home on 4.12 acres surrounded by Natl Forest and recreational opportunities in a beautiful area (Happy Valley) between Torrey and Boulder. [email protected], www.bouldermoutainreality/properties/grover/off-the-grid-in-happy-valley,...
  • SECLUDED TWO-STORY CUSTOM LOG HOME
    in 16-acre pinion pine forest with year-round stream, mountain views, wildlife. Garage, root cellar, wood shop, one-room cabin, RV shed, pasture, garden. [email protected]
  • BEAUTIFUL, CUSTOM RASTRA BLOCK ENERGY-EFFICIENT HOME
    Mature, six-acre Ponderosa forest, open pasture. Spectacular Sangre de Cristo mountain & valley views. Well maintained, paved county road, easy drive to world-class skiing &...
  • OJO CALIENTE RIVERSIDE SECLUSION
    Private, 2bd/2bath green home on 2 acres on the Ojo Caliente River between the confluence of the Chama & Rio Grande Rivers. Close to hiking,...
  • CLASSIC NEW MEXICO MOUNTAIN VIEWS
    of the Sangre de Cristo mountains. 3.19 acre lot to build on to escape the crush of city/town life. Short distance to trails, skiing, fishing,...
  • 40 ACRE ORGANIC FARM
    potential fruit/hay with house, Hotchkiss, CO, Scott Ellis, 970-420-0472, [email protected]
  • ASSOCIATE OF PROGRAMS
    The Orton Family Foundation empowers people to shape the future of their communities by improving local decision-making, creating a shared sense of belonging, and ultimately...
  • STAFF ATTORNEY
    STAFF ATTORNEY POSITION OPENING www.westernlaw.org/about-us/clinic-interns-careers The Western Environmental Law Center (WELC) is a nonprofit public interest environmental law firm with a 25-year legacy of success...
  • LAND CONSERVATION DIRECTOR
    Manage, develop and implement all stewardship and land management plans and activities on both private and public lands. Guide and direct comprehensive planning efforts, provide...
  • INTERNET-BASED BUSINESS FOR SALE
    Dream of owning your own business, being your own boss, working from home ... this is the one. 928-380-6570, www.testshop.com. More info at https://bit.ly/2Kgi340.
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    If you are deeply committed to public service and would like to become part of our high performing, passionate and diverse team, NCAT is looking...
  • TRIPLEX .8 ACRE KANAB, UT
    Create a base in the center of Southern Utah's Grand Circle of National Parks. Multiple residential property with three established rental units and zoning latitude...
  • FORGE & FAB SHOP
    with home on one beautiful acre in Pocatello, ID. Blackrock Forge - retiring after 43 years! Fully equipped 5,500 sf shop including office, gallery and...