For anyone who cares deeply about America’s wildlife, wild places and the future of our climate, Interior Secretary Sally JewellSarah (Sally) Margaret JewellBiden leans on Obama-era appointees on climate OVERNIGHT ENERGY: EPA declines to tighten key air pollution standards | Despite risks to polar bears, Trump pushes ahead with oil exploration in Arctic | Biden to champion climate action in 2021 OVERNIGHT ENERGY: EPA proposes reapproving uses of pesticide linked to brain damage in children | Hispanic caucus unhappy with transition team treatment of Lujan Grisham | Schwarzenegger backs Nichols to lead EPA MORE has been a disappointment.

Despite a quickly warming climate, she’s opening vast tracts of public lands and ocean to dirty fossil fuel development—places like Utah’s iconic canyon country, Alaska’s Chukchi Sea, and the Atlantic Coast, which has been off-limits for three decades. She’s also promised to open millions more acres of public lands for drilling and mining and just released new rules for fracking that are riddled with loopholes for polluting companies.


Jewell’s Department of the Interior has also proposed to end Endangered Species Act protection from nearly all wolves in the lower 48, abandoning the recovery effort long before scientists recommend. Thus far, Interior has also blessed inadequate management plans to save the greater sage grouse, despite the recommendations of its own scientists. When push comes to shove, our public lands – and the endangered wildlife they’re home to – lose out, time and time again. All to curry favor with big oil, mining, livestock, timber and multinational corporations.  

It’s hardly the record of an Interior secretary who should want to be remembered for protecting America’s most iconic places and species. Much less of a civic leader trying to keep us from climate disaster.

Jewell’s final chapter at Interior, though, has yet to be written. She can begin righting her legacy and our public lands future with four crucial steps:

1. Keep our remaining federal fossil fuels in the ground. Climate science says that, in order to avoid dangerous warming, we can’t burn most already-proven fossil fuels deposits, let alone open new ones. But each year Jewell’s agencies defy that principle by opening vast new deposits to drilling, fracking and mining—causing one-fifth of all U.S. greenhouse gas emissions while industrializing our public land and spoiling clean air and water. A ban on new federal fossil fuel leasing would keep that carbon we can’t safely burn where it belongs: in the ground.  

2. Establish new national wildlife refuges and wildlife corridors to protect declining species before protection under the Endangered Species Act is necessary. Tens of millions of acres of new refuges and critical wildlife corridors could be created from existing BLM lands to benefit sage grouse, migrating herds of pronghorn and many other mammals, birds and fish. Development, new energy transmission, pipelines and fragmentation on non-federal lands makes public lands even more crucial if nature is to continue to thrive. Protecting these areas now will save hundreds of millions of dollars, irreplaceable habitat and avoid controversy later.

3. Restore the primacy of science in decision-making for endangered wildlife. America’s efforts to return wolves to some of their historic homes have been a success. But wolves still occupy just 5 percent of their historic range in the continental U.S. and scientists have identified large areas where wolves should still be recovered before Endangered Species Act protections are lifted. Similarly Interior must change course in its work to protect greater sage grouse, especially by following its own scientists’ recommendations on land management to ensure their long-term survival. 

4. Protect Native American cultural and other important areas from mineral exploitation. Secretary Jewell can take steps to avoid repeating the tragedy that is the pending destruction of Oak Flats, sacred Apache land in Arizona that was transferred to a copper mining company by congressional decree. The secretary should use her authorities to withdraw from mineral entry other important Native American cultural sites and sensitive habitats before they are lost to the short-term greed of extractive industry.

Secretary Jewell still has a chance to leave a lasting legacy for America’s public lands, wildlife, and climate. It’s up to her to decide how she’ll be remembered; the clock is ticking. History has remembered the Secretaries of Interior who were champions of conservation. Others have been utterly forgotten.

Spivak is public lands program director for the Center for Biological Diversity.