Take a walk around Interior Secretary Ken Salazar's ornate office overlooking Washington and two things stand out: a bust of Theodore Roosevelt, the father of American conservation, and a book of ranches featuring the Salazar spread in Colorado. The symbolic connection is not lost on Salazar, who, as was Roosevelt, is a longtime conservationist, hunter, and outdoorsman. "One of the reasons I took the job was because conservation is such an important agenda for me personally," Salazar says.
But now, after scoring a big victory in 2009 with the creation of three new national parks, designating over 1,000 miles of scenic rivers, and tucking away 2 million acres of wilderness, Salazar and the administration are looking to Roosevelt for inspiration as they fight opposition to the president's conservation agenda, including adding more wilderness areas. "Conservation should be an American bipartisan issue," says Interior's boss, who later this month plans to unveil 100 new projects, two in every state, as part of the America's Great Outdoors Initiative of President Obama. "The U.S. led our Earth in conservation when Roosevelt became president, and to me that's very much at the crossroads of decisions that are being made today in Washington, to see if that conservation agenda will move forward."
Prone to wearing rancher hats and bolo ties outside of Washington, the former Colorado senator talks almost spiritually about his agenda. "It's that American legacy that I think is in the cauldron of decision right now. I think about that a lot when I'm outdoors," he says.
Unfortunately, Salazar confesses, he doesn't get out as much as he would like because, even though he oversees the nation's parks, his day job keeps him late at the office.
"I love being away from it all and being out there in the outdoors. But my outdoors time has been more limited," he says. One thing he does have time for is biking and jogging on the C&O Canal trail along the Potomac River. "That's really my principal outdoor activity." [See who's inside Obama's inner circle.]
If he could take a couple of weeks off, he'd be back in Colorado with his brothers hunting elk, something he might get a chance to do this weekend. The reason: The fifth-generation Coloradan has never bagged one of TR's favorite beasts. "I've always been skunked," he says. "I have been with my brothers when they have gotten their elk, but I have not gotten an elk." The hurdle to this weekend's hunt, though, is from a higher authority than work. "I told my brother it was 50-50," he says. "I have to negotiate with my wife."
Illustration by Ed Wexler