Ralph Maughan's Wildlife News carefully follows federal government decisions regarding animals, public lands, and nature in general. After 3 1/2 months of the Obama Administration, he states:
In my view Obama’s public land policies are turning out to be no better than George W. Bush’s. What a disappointment!
I pretty much concur. Certainly it's been disappointing, beginning with the appointment of Ken Salazar to Interior. Is it as bad as Bush? No, I don't suppose so. The government isn't vocally in favor of mountaintop removal coal mining for instance.
But poor decisions still abound. The last straw for Maugham was the BLM authorizing uranium exploration near the Grand Canyon. This is a Bushian decision to be sure; undermining our national sacred spaces for energy development. Obama has also named a minor bureaucrat named Homer Lee Wilkes to be the undersecretary in the Agriculture Department for the United States Forest Service. While I can't speak to Wilkes' qualifications (though there is much more information here), as Maughan rightfully points out, it suggests that Obama is not prioritzing land issues.
In fact, there seems to be quite the disconnect in the Obama administration concering the environment. On climate, Obama and his team are putting in quite a bit of energy. How can you not love the Steven Chu appointment as Secretary of Energy! Although conservative Democrats in Congress don't want a climate package, I think we'll see something this year. But on land policy, Obama either doesn't care very much or is outright hostile to environmentalists' concerns. I suspect the former; one doesn't get the sense that this is a man who has spent much time in the forests or deserts. And obviously, Obama is overburdened with major problems. But even if land management is not at the top of his list, he could appoint satisfactory people to these positions.
In the end, I suspect that above all this might be a political calculation. The Democrats are building their party in the West and don't want to adopt environmentalist policies that might alienate potential voters. But I wonder if this isn't a misreading of local politics. In places like Colorado, Oregon, and Montana, you have Democrats who are often well to the left of center and conservatives who are often quite far to the right. There are really polarized states without the same kind of moderate middle ground you might see in Ohio or Florida. Much of the change in voting patterns in the West hasn't come from locals changing their minds, it's come from new residents--Latinos, young outdoorsy people, etc. For the most part, these are not consitutencies interested in continuing Bush era land policies. I hope Obama reads this political map better and realizes what he can do to protect the land while not undermining his electoral prospects in the West.