Wednesday, January 10, 2001
State agricultural groups are optimistic about future federal land management practices because of President-elect George W. Bush's selection of Coloradan Gale Norton to head the Interior Department.
Both the Colorado Cattlemen's Association and the Colorado Farm Bureau have gone public with their support for Norton's appointment, which came late last month.
"I think she's certainly willing to listen to our concerns and embrace many of them," said Ray Christensen, executive vice president for the Colorado Farm Bureau.
Norton first came into the public eye as a lawyer hired by James Watt when he headed the Mountain States Legal Foundation in Denver, prior to his appointment by President Ronald Reagan as Interior secretary.
She then served in Washington, D.C., as the associate solicitor at the U.S. Department of the Interior, directing the nationwide legal staff of the National Park Service and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. She also served as assistant to the deputy secretary in the Department of Agriculture, according to the Colorado Farm Bureau.
Norton served as Colorado's attorney general from 1990-1998. While holding that position, she was named chair of the National Association of Attorneys General Environment Committee.
Most recently she has worked in a private law firm in Denver.
Norton will replace Bruce Babbitt as secretary.
"She'll bring a much needed change to the office," said Linda Clausen, communications director of the Colorado Cattlemen's Association.
Clausen said Babbitt, under President Bill Clinton's administration, has engaged in a top-down style of management of public lands since he was appointed in 1993. Decisions have been made at the federal level on what lands to protect and then those decisions were passed down to be dealt with at the local level.
"That's just not practical when you look at all the agricultural producers who rely on federal lands for grazing," Clausen said.
Christensen said initiatives like the Clinton roadless proposal, which restricts road building on 54 million acres of national forest land, and proposed off-highway vehicle guidelines for Bureau of Land Management land, are examples of the federal government managing land in top-down style without addressing the concerns of agricultural producers.
Both issues could result in difficulties for people with grazing leases to access the land.
"We look to (Norton) to perhaps come in with a different perspective," he said.
Norton's strong suit is her ability to look at issues from a local perspective, Christensen said.
"We want land protected, too," he said. "But we think there needs to be more local input."
Christensen worked with Norton when she was the attorney general on water, property and grazing rights issues. He said she understands how those issues affect agricultural producers.
"I think she is uniquely situated for this position," he said.
Alan Foutz, president of the Colorado Farm Bureau, reacted to the announcement in a press release on Dec. 29.
"Ms. Norton has long been a supporter of not only agriculture but also the strong values representing the western states," Foutz stated. "She has fought tough battles with integrity and a strong knowledge of the diverse issues impacting the region.
"As attorney general, Norton went to bat against the U.S. Forest Service in its attempt to take over private and state water rights for by-pass flows," said Foutz. "She has also been a strong proponent of multiple-use of public lands, even in the face of controversy."