The Outside Blog

Climbing : Politics

New Efforts to Free a Captive Killer Whale

Should a captive killer whale be listed under the Endangered Species Act? That is the question NOAA is considering with regard to a wild-caught killer whale named Lolita who has been performing shows at Miami's Seaquarium for more than 40 years. Lolita was captured as a calf in Puget Sound in 1970, from a group of killer whales known as the Southern Residents. In 2005 the Southern Residents were listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), with Lolita excluded from the listing. But last week the National Oceanic And Atmospheric Administration's Fisheries Division—in response to a petition filed by the Animal Legal Defense Fund and PETA—proposed a rule that would add Lolita to her extended family's ESA listing.

"The government is now poised to reverse the unlawful and unexplained 2005 decison to deny Lolita protection under the Endangered Species Act. It's a huge first step, but it's only a first step," says Jared Goodman, Director of Animal Law at PETA, which is also suing the U.S. Departmernt Of Agriculture for renewing Miami Seaquarium's licence to display Lolita despite keeping her in conditions (especially her small pool) which PETA argues are in violation of the Animal Welfare Act.

NOAA is now seeking scientific and expert comment on the proposed rule, and a final decision could be a year away. But if Lolita is, in the end, granted endangered status, she would be the first captive killer whale to get that protection and Miami Seaquarium would have to apply for a special permit to keep her.

Andrew Hertz, Miami Seaquarium's General Manager, has been fighting efforts to free Lolita (the marine park's lone orca since her male companion, Hugo, died in 1980), for years. In a statement to local news, Hertz said: "This decision is not final. Based on NMFS' announcement, Lolita will continue to be an ambassador for her species from her home at Miami Seaquarium."

Animal welfare advocates hope that NOAA's proposed rule is the first step toward Lolita's journey back to her family. Plans have long existed to create a retirement seapen for Lolita in the waters frequented by her immediate family group (the killer whale believed to be her mother is still alive). But even if Miami Seaquarium in the end has to give Lolita up, NOAA expressed concern about returning her to her native waters, noting in its review of Lolita's case that "release of a captive animal into the wild has the potential to injure or kill not only the particular animal, but also the wild populations of that same species."

Naomi Rose, a killer-whale expert with the Animal Welfare Institute, says that absent a solid seapen plan, including funding, it is possible that Lolita could even end up at another marine park, with better facilities, such as SeaWorld. And she acknowledges the risks involved in transporting a killer whale that is estimated to be almost 50, and the mixed memories about the fate of Keiko—of Free Willy fame—who died after being returned to his native waters off Iceland. Still, Rose says: "The big difference is the proposed sea pen would be where Lolita's family is. It could flip her out completely, or she would cope like she has coped all these years. I don't think anyone knows. It's difficult to be playing God with her, but keeping her at Miami Seaquarium is playing God, too. If the law says she can't stay there, then the potential of a sea pen is far greater than in that pool."

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Why Duck Dynasty Can't Be Stopped

Back in December 2013, Phil Robertson, the bearded star of A&E’s Duck Dynasty, said some offensive things about black people and gay people. Robertson became the subject of boycotts and counter-boycotts, Cracker Barrel yanked his Duck Commander merch, and A&E suspended the show.

But outrage requires shock, and Robertson’s views shouldn’t have come as a surprise to anyone familiar with his empire. (While I’ve watched only a couple of episodes of Duck Dynasty, I confess to being a waterfowler and a casual fan of Robertson’s more baroque early work, a hook-and-bullet series on the Outdoor Channel called Duck Commander.)

The reality star’s rants about "gross sexual immorality" are all over the Internet. Robertson plays a stereotypically backward Deep South hillbilly. America’s outrage centered on the fact that Robertson embodied his caricature too well.

Robertson is the biggest star of the biggest boom in reality TV: hicksploitation. The genre laughs at (and sometimes with) the last group of people it’s still ostensibly OK to stereotype—white backwoodsy men. The modern iteration launched in 2011 with Animal Planet’s Hillbilly Handfishin’, about Oklahoma catfish noodlers, then MTV offered its West Virginia–based Buckwild. We have now waded deep into swamp country, with Discovery’s Swamp Loggers, the History Channel’s Swamp People, and Animal Planet’s Swamp Wars. But Duck Dynasty has dominated the category since debuting in March 2012. The season four premiere, in August 2013, netted A&E 11.8 million viewers. Last year, Duck Commander merchandise made more than $400 million. Viewers laugh, but the joke isn’t on the men in camo.

"They’re highly intelligent guys who don’t get anything pulled over on them," says Duck Dynasty executive producer Scott Gurney. "And they’re funny."

It’s also not a new trick. "The Andy Griffith Show, The Beverly Hillbillies, Petticoat Junction—these were massive hits in the sixties," says Robert Thompson, a professor of popular culture at Syracuse University. "They were called hick-coms back then."

Why are the shows so popular now? It’s hard to say whether Americans like to laugh at rubes or are envious of men who can hunt all day and ignore basic hygiene. One thing is for sure—the shows are immensely profitable, in part because they’re cheaper to produce than man-versus-nature shows like Deadliest Catch. "Duck Dynasty and the rest of them have modest production values and location requirements," says Thompson.

Two days before Christmas, Cracker Barrel returned the Duckmen products to its shelves to appease angry customers. Four days later, A&E reinstated the show. Robertson didn’t comment, but his son Willie, CEO of Duck Commander products, tweeted, "Ole Phil may be a little crude but his heart is good. He’s the Real Deal!"

He’d better be. In January, Animal Planet unveiled its latest show, this one about a family of Canadian trappers called Beaver Brothers. Its star is a 65-year-old trapper named Charlie Landry. "I think you’ll like him for his expertise," says producer Keith Hoffman. "Plus he talks funny."

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Can Snowboarding Be Saved?

I was a state college kid the first and only time I rode a snowboard. This was in the 1980s and snowboarding was still illegal at New Hampshire's ski resorts. A classmate from New York City named after Dylan Thomas (and who called everybody he didn't like a chucklehead) brought a board to campus after the winter break. It was a Burton Woody. Skegs on the base. No edges. You just strapped your Sorels in and went.

Actually it wasn't that easy. First we had to boot pack up a local gravel pit, lock into the board, and take turns pushing each other bobsled-style off the ridge. Before exhaustion took hold, I remember laying the board over for one glorious powder turn. Effortless flotation. The way the G-forces seemed to sink into your gut. Snowboarding was a hoot; it was way cooler than standing up on a toboggan.

But it didn't hook me. It's not that I didn't think snowboarding was relevant, I did and I still do. But I was already a passionate skier and never once considered giving it up. Still, I supported my friends in the fight to open resorts to the fledgling sport, hired snowboarders to run nascent board departments in 50-year-old ski shops, helped Olympic snowboard racers figure out their stance angles and tuning, ran photos and profiles of snowboarders in a magazine about skiing, chased powder with snowboarders, climbed and descended Mount Rainier with snowboarders, and cracked many an après beer with snowboarders.

{%{"quote":"Industrialized snowboarding hates diversity. Those Olympic snowboarders we used to welcome in our shop? They were once part of a small but vibrant recreational snowboard carving community."}%}

It sounds like borderline bigotry to say it, but I have "snowboarding friends." In fact, from adulthood on, most of my skiing memories are tied up with snowboarding. Frankly, skiing would be a lot less fun without it. From twin tips and fat skis to better clothing and a more laissez-faire attitude at ski resorts, the advent of snowboarding dramatically altered my once-stale sport. So please trust that I'm not just a hater when I say this: Snowboarding is screwed.

Many a destination resort will admit privately that snowboarding now accounts for less than 15 percent of total revenue. Others have seen snowboard visits cut in half. Sales of snowboarding gear are down dramatically, too, a whopping 29 percent over the past six years. Where did all the snowboarders go? Many are skiing. Others simply quit.

It didn't really have to be like this. The problem isn't so much snowboarding, but the snowboarding industry. The sport was invented by humble folk in the Midwest (by a friend's father) and Vermont (by some older classmates of my wife), but it was adopted by Southern California. Actually it was more of an alien rendition than an adoption. Most snowboarders in places like Maine, Montana, and Colorado have little affiliation with the carefully cultivated image of "action sports." Then there's the ageism. Over 30 years old but still get out and shred? The industry lives in absolute dread of you.

I'm not making this up. Each February I experience the unrestrained joy of attending the ski and snowboard trade show in Denver. Here's what I see when I walk the snowboard section: Underage snowboarders puking in the corridors after one too many keg stands—at 10 a.m. And overseeing all this fabricated youthfulness? Fifty-year-old white dudes in flat-brim caps, tight jeans, and designer flannel. Chuckleheads. Leveraging snowboarding's rebel cred, they modeled its image on skateboarding and aimed it almost entirely at teenagers.

That worked great for a while. Then snowboarding went mainstream—the X Games, Mountain Dew ads, Shaun White—and, inevitably, it lost a bit of its mojo. The first generation of riders got real jobs and started having kids, and snowboarding's image never matured to accommodate them.

As snowboarding went narrow, skiing went big. Today's skiers can choose to carve turns, launch off the slopestyle jumps, hammer bumps, navigate steeps, tour the backcountry, rip bottomless pow, race in a beer league, or just go skiing like a vacationer from Chicago or Boca Friggin' Raton. It's cool; there's a place for you and a group of likeminded folks who would love to have you. Cooler still if you're a lifelong enthusiast? Dabble in all the above. Skiing isn't golf; there's always some new adventure waiting for you.

But industrialized snowboarding hates diversity. Those Olympic snowboarders we used to welcome in our shop? They were once part of a small but vibrant recreational snowboard carving community. Think stiff and long boards with deep sidecuts that you could lay down so deep your tongue was dragging on the corduroy. It gave certain snowboarders something to do when there wasn't fresh snow or when the idea of beating the piss out yourself in the terrain park didn't sound all that inviting. And then the major brands stopped making carving boards. The image didn't fly with the baggy jeans/tight jeans set. Thou shalt emulate the flying tomato and only the flying tomato. Check it out: White cut his hair and wears a suit now, while snowboarding. Time to buy a new wardrobe kids!

The same tunnel vision nearly ruined skateboarding. Snowboarding is even more anti-business. An example: In the magazine I used to edit about skiing, we frequently included Burton apparel because in the real world it's much adored by people like, say, the National Brotherhood of Skiers—grown up black people with gobs of cash who both ski and snowboard. But get this: After a few years Burton refused to send product or even images for inclusion because they didn't want to be affiliated with an older demo, or, egad!, skiers. Lately, Burton has expanded its world-view—while contracting its business. But even last year Jake Burton publicly stated he'd never allow simple scuff guards to be sewn onto Burton pants—because skiers need scuff guards.

A similar experience befell big mountain snowboarding pioneer Jeremy Jones. Not only is Jones (whose brothers famously founded Teton Gravity Research) the greatest sender of 50-degree-plus, powder-choked faces in the history of snowboarding, he's also a genuine, friendly, sentient human being who cares about the environment and the future of the sport he loves. In addition to founding the global-warming action group Protect Our Winters!—POW!—a few years back, Jones was keen on getting 30-plus-year-old snowboarders to embrace lower-impact backcountry riding, much as has happened with skiing.

Jones had some great ideas for product and a new line of split boards, which bisect for ski touring uphill and click together into a snowboard for the descent. He went so far as to pitch the big snowboard companies on the idea. He's too nice to say it, but those companies pretty much flipped him the bird. Their reasoning? Backcountry snowboarding is for old dudes. So Jones started his own company, Jones Snowboards, which lines up well with his successful trilogy of films that celebrate human powered snowboarding. Jones Snowboards is doing well; they're growing in a declining market, as are a few other brands, like Venture, a small Colorado producer that primarily builds deeply rockered boards (a design invented by skiers) purpose-built for powder turns and the sustainable snowboarding life.

Even with the Jeremy Joneses of the sport, though, in my circle of friends there are just fewer snowboarders. Most have made the switch to skiing. When asked, the few holdouts I know mumble something like: "I don't know why I keep going. I just love snowboarding."

It would be easy to say that skiing somehow beat snowboarding, but that ski/board dichotomy, that animus, only exists in the fading minds of skiers in mothballed Norwegian sweaters and bleary-eyed action-sports marketers.

I used to live with one such polarized guy in a ski condo in Summit County, Colorado. His last name was Stern and we called him "Sternoman," as if he was an undiscovered hominid. He was a horrid skier from (my apologies for picking on you) Southern California. By that I mean he was dangerous. On the hill we would hide behind trees so as not to be bludgeoned by his plummeting goonery. Sitting on our dumpster couch one night eating the last of our food cache, Sternoman, who was late on his rent, pronounced that he was switching over to snowboarding. He said the new sport would kill skiing in ten years because you could catch more air, go faster, and ride powder more efficiently on a snowboard. Instead of, in due turn, bludgeoning him, we took his rent money and gave him the bum's rush.

What's there to fight about? Skiing has proven to be bigger, faster, more efficient, and ultimately more welcoming than snowboarding. And that last point is the salient one. My Irish grandparents were the orphaned children of immigrants killed off in the Spanish Flu. After World War II they became skiers, and now my kids continue that legacy, as undoubtedly their grandchildren will as well. Skiing lives on because it's far more than a trendy action sport. Skiing is a way of life. There's a sinew to it that holds families and friends together.

But juvenile marketers can't take all the credit for killing snowboarding. The sport has some fundamental challenges. For one, it's more dangerous than skiing: As a snowboarder, you're more likely to break a wrist or an arm, and, according to a recent study published in the American Journal of Sports Medicine, you're also way more likely to get a concussion. This could help explain why more and more parents are putting their kids on skis instead of snowboards. (The number of first-time snowboarders under the age of 14 is at a 13-year low.) Of course, part of that decline probably has to do with those same marketers shunning snowboarding parents. Who, by the way, do exist. Despite the declines, up to 45 percent of snowboarders are now over the age of 25.

And why are they hanging with a sport that doesn't care about them anymore? Because snowboarding is fun. And, ultimately, that's all that matters. If, like skiing, the industry does a better job of making everybody feel comfortable, it might even thrive. If not, skiing will continue to absorb snowboarders, much as Homo sapiens absorbed Neanderthals. Take what you will from that analogy. And allow me to preempt your letter to the editor: I'm a hater.

Also read: Snowboarding is dead? Hardly. Reports of the sport's demise have been greatly exaggerated.

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Blood in the Sand: Killing a Turtle Advocate

IT WAS ONLY eight o'clock on the evening of May 30, 2013, but the beach was completely dark. The moon hadn't yet risen above Playa Moín, a 15-mile-long strand of mangrove and palm on Costa Rica's Caribbean coast. A two-door Suzuki 4x4 bumped along a rough track behind the beach. The port lights of Limón, the largest town on the coast, glowed six miles away on the horizon. There was no sound except the low roar of surf and the whine of the engine straining through drifts of sand.

Riding shotgun was Jairo Mora Sandoval, a 26-year-old Costa Rican conservationist. With a flop of black hair and a scraggly beard, he wore dark clothes and a headlamp, which he used to spot leatherback sea turtle nests on the beach. Mora's friend Almudena, a 26-year-old veterinarian from Spain, was behind the wheel. The other passengers were U.S. citizens: Rachel, Katherine, and Grace, college students who had come to work at the Costa Rica Wildlife Sanctuary, a nonprofit animal-rescue center. Almudena was the resident vet, and the Americans were volunteers. By day they cared for the sanctuary's menagerie of sloths, monkeys, and birds. Working with Mora, though, meant taking the graveyard shift. He ran the sanctuary's program rescuing endangered leatherbacks, which haul their 700-plus-pound bodies onto Playa Moín each spring to lay eggs at night.

The beach's isolation made it both ideal and perilous as a nesting spot. The same blackness that attracted the turtles, which are disoriented by artificial light, provided cover for less savory human activity. In recent years, the thinly populated Caribbean coast has become a haven for everything from petty theft to trafficking of Colombian cocaine and Jamaican marijuana. For decades, Playa Moín has been a destination for hueveros—literally, "egg men"—small-time poachers who plunder sea turtle nests and sell the eggs for a dollar each as an aphrodisiac. But as crime along the Caribbean coast has risen, so has organized egg poaching, which has helped decimate the leatherback population. By most estimates, fewer than 34,000 nesting females remain worldwide.

Since 2010, Mora had been living at the sanctuary and patrolling the beach for a nonprofit organization called the Wider Caribbean Sea Turtle Conservation Network, or Widecast. His strategy was to beat the hueveros to the punch by gathering eggs from freshly laid nests and spiriting them to a hatchery on the sanctuary grounds. This was dangerous work. Every poacher on Moín knew Mora, and confrontations were frequent—he once jumped out of a moving truck to tackle a huevero.

Rachel, Grace, and Almudena had accompanied Mora on foot patrols several times over the previous weeks. (Out of concern for their safety, all four women requested that their last names not be used.) They had encountered no trouble while moving slowly on foot, but they also hadn't found many unmolested nests. On this night, Mora had convinced Almudena to take her rental car. She was worried about the poachers, but she hadn't yet seen a leatherback, and Mora was persuasive. His passion was infectious, and a romance between the two had blossomed. Almudena was attracted by his boundless energy and commitment. Something about this beach gets in you, he told her.

The sand was too deep for the Suzuki, so Mora got out and walked toward the beach, disappearing in the night. Moín's primal darkness is essential to sea turtles. After hatching at night, the baby turtles navigate toward the brightest thing around: the whiteness of the breaking waves. Males spend their lives at sea, but females, guided by natal homing instincts, come ashore every two or three years to lay eggs, often to the same beaches where they hatched.

{%{"quote":"Masked faces crowded into Almudena's window. The men demanded money, jewelry, phones, car keys. They pulled Almudena out and frisked her, and the Americans stayed in the car as the men rifled through it, snatching everything of value, including the turtle eggs."}%}

Around 10:30, Almudena got a call—Mora had found a leatherback. The women rushed to the beach, where they saw a huge female baula backfilling a nesting hole with its hind flippers. Mora stood nearby alongside several hueveros. One was instantly recognizable, a 36-year-old man named Maximiliano Gutierrez. With his beard and long reddish-brown dreadlocks, "Guti" was a familiar presence on Moín.

Mora had forged a reluctant arrangement with Guti and a few other regular poachers: if they arrived at a nest simultaneously, they'd split the eggs. After measuring the turtle—it was nearly six feet long—Mora and Rachel took half the nest, about 40 cue-ball-size eggs, and put them into a plastic bag. Then Guti wandered off, and the turtle pulled itself back toward the surf.

When they returned to the road, a police patrol pulled up. The cops warned Mora that they had run into some rough characters earlier that night, then drove off as Mora and the women headed south, toward the sanctuary, just six miles away. Soon they came upon a palm trunk laid across the narrow track—a trick the hueveros often played to mess with police patrols. Mora hopped out, hefting the log out of the way as Almudena drove past. Just as Mora put the log back, five men stepped out of the darkness. Bandannas covered their faces. They shouted at everyone to put their hands up and their heads down. Then they grabbed Mora.

"Dude, I'm from Moín!" he protested, but the men threw him to the ground.

Masked faces crowded into Almudena's window. The men demanded money, jewelry, phones, car keys. They pulled Almudena out and frisked her, and the Americans stayed in the car as the men rifled through it, snatching everything of value, including the turtle eggs. Almudena saw two of the men stuffing a limp Mora into the tiny cargo area. The four women were jammed into the backseat with a masked man sprawled on top of them. As the driver turned the Suzuki around, Almudena reached behind the seat and felt Mora slip his palm into hers. He squeezed hard.

The driver pulled off next to a shack in the jungle, and the men, claiming to be looking for cell phones, told the girls to lift their shirts and drop their pants. Mosquitoes swarmed them. After being frisked, Almudena caught a glimpse of two of the men driving off in the Suzuki. Mora was still in the trunk.

The four young women sat on logs behind the hut with two of their captors. The guys seemed young, not more than 20, and were oddly talkative for criminals. They said they understood what the conservationists were trying to do, but they needed to feed their families. One said that Mora "didn't respect the rules of the beach."

The men announced that they were going to get some coconuts, walked away, and never came back. After an hour, the women decided to make a break for it. Huddled close together, they walked down to the beach and headed south toward the sanctuary. They were terrified and stunned, barely speaking and moving on autopilot. Two hours later they finally reached the gate but found no sign of Mora. Almudena started to sob. A caretaker called the police in Limón, and soon a line of vehicles raced north along the beach track. At 6:30 a.m. the police radio crackled. They had found Almudena's car, buried up to its axles in sand. There was a body beside it.

{%{"image":"","caption":"Jairo Mora Sandoval."}%}

MORA WAS FOUND naked and facedown on the beach, his hands bound behind him and a large gash on the back of his head. The official cause of death was asphyxiation—he'd aspirated sand deep into his lungs.

The news spread quickly. A chorus of tweets cast Mora as an environmental martyr akin to Chico Mendes, the Brazilian rain forest activist who was assassinated in 1988. The BBC, The New York Times, and The Washington Post picked up the story. An online petition started by the nonprofit Sea Turtle Restoration Project called on Costa Rican president Laura Chinchilla for justice and gathered 120,000 signatures. Paul Watson, the founder of the Sea Shepherd Society and the star of Whale Wars, offered $30,000 to anyone who could identify the killers. "Jairo is no longer simply a murder statistic," Watson wrote. "He is now an icon."

There was a sense, too, that this killing would be bad for business. Long the self-styled ecotourism capital of the world, Costa Rica relies on international travelers for 10 percent of its GDP. "What would have happened if the young female North American volunteers were murdered?" wrote one hotel owner in an open e-mail to the country's ecotourism community. "Costa Rica would have a huge, long-lasting P.R. problem." Not long after, President Chinchilla took to Twitter to vow that there would be "no impunity" and that the killers would be caught.

That task fell to detectives from the Office of Judicial Investigation (OIJ), Costa Rica's equivalent of the FBI, and Limón's police department. The OIJ attempted to trace the victims' stolen cell phones, but the devices appeared to have been switched off and their SIM cards removed. Almudena, Grace, Katherine, and Rachel gave depositions before leaving the country, but it was clear that finding other witnesses would be a challenge.

Moín is backed by a scattering of run-down houses behind high walls. It's the kind of place where neighbors know one another's business but don't talk about it, especially to cops. The hueveros met OIJ investigators with silence. When detectives interviewed Guti, he was so drunk he could barely speak.

Not everyone kept quiet, though. Following the murder, Vanessa Lizano, the founder of the Costa Rica Wildlife Sanctuary, dedicated herself to fighting for her fallen colleague's legacy. I e-mailed her and asked if I could come visit, and she welcomed me.

I flew to San José two weeks after the killing, arriving at the sanctuary after dusk. Lizano, 36, unlocked a high gate adorned with a brightly painted butterfly. "Welcome to Moín," she said in a theatrical voice, her auburn hair pulled back in a ponytail. The property covered about a dozen acres of rainforest and was dotted with animal pens. Paintings of Costa Rica's fauna adorned every surface. Lizano opened a pen and picked up a baby howler monkey, which wrapped its tail around her neck like a boa. "I keep expecting Jairo to just show up," she said. "I guess I haven't realized it yet."

Lizano had been running a modeling agency in San José in 2005 when she and her parents decided to open a butterfly farm near the beach. She leased a small piece of land and moved to Moín with her infant son, Federico, or "Fedé," her parents, and a three-toed sloth named Buda. They gradually transformed the farm into a sanctuary, acquiring rescued sloths and monkeys, a one-winged owl, and a pair of scarlet macaws seized from an imprisoned narcotrafficker. Fedé pulled baby armadillos around in his Tonka trucks and shared his bed with Buda.

{%{"quote":"Almudena saw two of the men stuffing a limp Mora into the tiny cargo area. The four women were jammed into the backseat with a masked man sprawled on top of them. As the driver turned the Suzuki around, Almudena reached behind the seat and felt Mora slip his palm into hers. He squeezed hard."}%}

Lizano operated the sanctuary with her mother, Marielos, and a rotation of international volunteers, who paid $100 a week for room and board—a common model for small-scale ecotourism in Costa Rica. The sanctuary was never a moneymaker, but Lizano loved working with the animals.

Then, one day in 2009, she discovered several dead leatherbacks on the beach that had been gutted for their egg sacs. "I went crazy," she says. She attended a sea turtle conservation training program in Gandoca, run by Widecast, a nonprofit that operates in 43 countries. There she met Mora, who'd been working with Widecast since he was 15. Lizano arranged for the organization to operate a turtle program out of her sanctuary, and in 2010 Mora moved to Moín to help run it.

They soon developed something like a sibling rivalry. They'd psych themselves up by watching Whale Wars, then compete to see who could gather more nests. Normally a goofball and unabashed flirt, Mora turned gravely serious when on patrol. He loved the turtles deeply, but he seemed to love the fight for them even more. Lizano worried that his stubbornness may have made things worse on the night he was killed.

"Jairo wouldn't have gone without a fight," she said. "He was a very, very tough guy."

Lizano told me that her mission was now to realize Mora's vision of preserving Playa Moín as a national park. She had been advocating for the preserve to anyone who would listen—law enforcement, the government, the media. It was a frustrating campaign. The turtle program had been shut down in the wake of the killing, and poaching had continued. Meanwhile, Lizano seemed certain that people around Moín knew who the killers were, but she had little faith in the police. On the night of the murder, when Erick Calderón, Limón's chief of police, called to inform her that Mora had been killed, she screamed at him. Since 2010, Calderón had intermittently provided police escorts for the sanctuary's patrollers, and by 2013 he'd suspended them because of limited resources. Prior to the killings, Lizano and Mora had asked repeatedly for protection, to no avail. The murder, Lizano said, was Calderón's fault.

But there was plenty of recrimination to go around. The ecotourism community blamed Lizano and Widecast for putting volunteers at risk. The family of one of the Americans, Grace, had demanded that Widecast reimburse her for her stolen camera, phone, and sneakers. Lizano told me the accusations were unfair. "The volunteers knew what they were getting into," she said. "We would say, 'It's up to you if you want to go out.' "

Still, she was overwhelmed with guilt. "I know Jairo was scared, because I used to tease him," she said. "We'd make fun of each other for being afraid. We'd always kidaround that we would die on the beach." She'd tell him that she wanted her ashes carried into the surf by a sea turtle. Mora was less sentimental. "He always said, 'You can do whatever, I really don't care. Just drink a lot. Throw a party.' "

We sat in the open-air kitchen, and Lizano held her head in her hands. "If you've got to blame somebody, blame me," she said. "I was the one who took Jairo and showed him the beach, and he fell in love."

{%{"image":"","caption":"Hueveros: The man on the right, Guti, saw Mora the night he was killed."}%}

MORA WAS BORN in Gandoca, a tiny Caribbean town near the Panama border. He caught the wildlife bug early, from his grandfather, Jerónimo Matute, an environmentalist who helped found the Gandoca-Manzanillo Wildlife Refuge, a sea turtle nesting area. Jairo began releasing hatchlings at age six. Once
he became a full-time Widecast employee, he sent much of his salary home every month to his mother, Fernanda, and completed high school through a correspondence program.

By 2010, Mora had moved to Moín, living in a tiny room over the sanctuary's kitchen. Some days, Mora and the volunteers—college students, mainly, from all over the world—counted poached nests or monitored the sanctuary's hatchery; some nights they'd go on patrol. Mora was clear about the risks involved, and some chose not to go, but others joined eagerly. It didn't seem that dangerous, especially in the early days, when the Limón police accompanied the patrols.

Still, there were tensions from the beginning. During nesting season, the hueveros squatted in shacks in the jungle. Most were desperately poor, many were addicts, and all considered Lizano and Mora competition. Lizano had no qualms about reporting poachers to the police.

A leatherback typically lays 80 fertilized eggs and covers them with about 30 yolkless ones. Poachers consider the yolkless eggs worthless and usually toss them aside. Lizano and Mora often placed those eggs on top of broken glass, causing a poacher to cut himself while digging for the good ones. Lizano even set volunteers to work smashing glass to carry in buckets to the beach. She sometimes found obscene notes scrawled in the sand. She'd write back: Fuck You.

Lizano got caught in shootouts between police and poachers at the beach four times, once having to duck for cover behind a leatherback. In April 2011, she was driving alone at night on Moín when she came across a tree blocking the road. Two men with machetes jumped out of the forest and ran toward her truck. She floored it in reverse down the dirt road, watching as the men with the machetes chased, their eyes full of hate.

{%{"quote":"A few weeks before his death, Mora told a newspaper reporter that threats were increasing and the police were ignoring Widecast's pleas for help. He called his mother, Fernanda, every night before he went on patrol, asking for her blessing."}%}

In the spring of 2012, Calderón suspended the police escorts. Limón had the highest crime rate in Costa Rica, and the police chief was spread too thin trying to protect the city's human population, never mind the turtles. Mora and Lizano shifted to more conciliatory tactics. They hired ten hueveros and paid each of them a salary of $300 per month, using money from the volunteers' fees. In return, the men would give up poaching and work on conservation. Guti was one of the first to sign on. The hueveros walked the beach with the volunteers, gathering nests and bringing them to the hatchery. It was a steep pay cut—an industrious huevero can make as much as $200 a night—so Lizano pushed the idea that the poachers could eventually work in the more viable long game of ecotourism, guiding tourists to nesting sites. But the money for the project quickly ran out, and Lizano wasn't surprised when poaching increased soon after.

Around the same time, a menacing poaching gang showed up on Playa Moín. They seemed far more organized than the typical booze-addled hueveros. The group dropped men along the beach by van, using cell phones to warn each other of approaching police. They were led by a Nicaraguan named Felipe "Renco" Arauz, now 38, who had a long criminal history, including drug trafficking and kidnapping.

In April 2012, a group of men armed with AK-47's broke into the hatchery, tied up five volunteers, and beat a cousin of Mora's with their rifle butts. Then they stole all 1,500 of the eggs that had been collected that season. Mora, out patrolling the beach, returned to find the volunteers tied up. He went ballistic, punching the walls. Then he exacted vengeance, going on a frenzy of egg gathering, accompanied once again by armed police protection. Mora collected 19 nests in three nights, completely replacing the eggs that had been stolen. But a few weeks later, Calderón once again suspended escorts, and no arrests were made.

A month after the hatchery raid, in May 2012, the dangers became too much even for Lizano. She was at a restaurant in downtown Limón when she spotted a man taking Fedé's photo with his cell phone. She recognized him as a huevero and confronted him angrily: "It's me you want. Leave the kid out of it." The man laughed at her. That was the final straw. She moved with Fedé back to San José, returning to Moín alone on weekends.

Mora remained, however, and when the 2013 season began in March, he returned to his patrols—mostly alone, but occasionally with volunteers. By this point, the volunteer program was entirely Mora's operation. The Americans, who arrived in April, knew there were risks. But according to Rachel, Mora never told her about the raid on the hatchery the year before. She entrusted her safety to him completely. "I had gone out numerous times with Jairo and never really felt in danger," she told me. "I knew he was there and wouldn't let anything happen to me."

But just a few weeks before his death, Mora told a newspaper reporter that threats were increasing and the police were ignoring Widecast's pleas for help. He called his mother, Fernanda, every night before he went on patrol, asking for her blessing. When Lizano saw Fernanda at Mora's funeral, she asked for her forgiveness.

"Sweetie," Fernanda replied, "Jairo wanted to be there. It was his thing."


The cop next to me, young and jumpy in the darkness, pulled his M4's slide back, racking a cartridge. As I crouched down, I saw two green dots floating—the glow-in-the-dark sights of a drawn 9mm. About 100 yards off, the police had spotted a couple of shadowy figures. Hueveros.

I was on patrol. Following Mora's killing, the sea turtle volunteer program had been suspended, but two of Mora's young protégés, Roger Sanchez and his girlfriend, Marjorie Balfodano, still walked the beach every night with police at their side. Sanchez, 18, and Balfodano, 20, were both diminutive students, standing in bare feet with headlamps on. They weren't much to intimidate a poacher, but Sanchez was fearless. Before we set out, he told me with earnest bravado that he planned to patrol Moín for the rest of his life. When we saw the hueveros, we'd been walking for three hours alongside an escort of five officers from Limón's Fuerza Pública, kitted out with bulletproof vests, sidearms, and M4 carbines. Perhaps it was just a publicity stunt by Calderón, but it was a comforting one. We had encountered a dozen plundered nests, each one a shallow pit littered with broken shells. The hueveros, it had seemed, were just steps ahead of us.

Then the cop on my right noticed two figures and pulled his gun. Three of the police told us to wait and confronted the two men. After several minutes we approached. The cops shone their flashlights on the poachers and made them turn out their pockets. One wore a knit cap, and the other had long reddish dreadlocks—Guti. They were both slurry with drink, and the cops seemed to be making a show of frisking them. The men had no contraband, so the cops let them stumble off along the beach.

After a while the radio crackled. Another police truck had found two nesting leatherbacks. We rushed to the spot. In the darkness, a hump the size of an overturned kiddie pool slowly shifted in the sand. The baula's great watery eyes looked sidelong toward the sea as it excavated a nest in the beach with back flippers as dexterous as socked hands. With each labored effort, it delicately lifted a tiny scoop of sand and cupped it to the edge of the hole. Sanchez held a plastic bag in anticipation, ready for her to drop her clutch.

Then Guti's drunken companion stumbled up to us, knelt beside Sanchez, and offered a boozy disquisition on sea turtle biology. The cops ignored him, and the spooked animal heaved forward, dragging her bulk away without laying any eggs. A few more heaves and the foaming waves broke over the turtle's ridged carapace.

The night wasn't a complete loss, though. A short distance away, the second leatherback had laid its nest. Soon a second patrol truck pulled up and handed Sanchez a bag of 60 eggs. We hitched a ride back to the sanctuary and a wooden shed packed with styrofoam coolers. Sanchez opened one, sifted beach sand into the bottom, then began placing the eggs inside. I noticed that a pen had been stuck into one of the coolers. Next to it, a set of stylized initials was scratched into the styrofoam: JMS. Altogether, there were perhaps 1,000 eggs in the coolers. Almost all of them had been gathered by Mora.

{%{"image":"","caption":"Mora's protoge Roger Sanchez (left) waits for a turtle to lay eggs."}%}

A COUPLE OF DAYS later, I went to see Erick Calderón at the police headquarters in Limón. With his small build and boyish face, he seemed an unlikely enforcer, and he'd clearly been affected by the pressure the killing had brought on his department. Since the murder, Calderón said, the police had patrolled Moín every night. "I want to make the beach a safer place, control poaching of eggs, and educate the population so the demand isn't there," he said. But it was unclear how long he could sustain the effort. He said that only a dedicated ecological police force would make a lasting impact. They'd need a permanent outpost on Moín, a dozen officers supplied with 4x4s and night-vision goggles.

Then Calderón insisted that Mora's murder was an anomaly and that Costa Rica was "not a violent society"—an assertion belied by the fact that the previous afternoon, a shootout between rival gangs had happened just a few blocks from the station. He seemed ashamed that the murder had happened on his watch, that Lizano had screamed at him. "I know Jairo was a good guy," he told me.

That afternoon I met up with Lizano's father, Bernie. His means of processing his sorrow had been to turn himself into a pro bono private investigator. A former tuna fisherman, Bernie was 65, with a full head of white hair and a pronounced limp from an old boating accident. As we drove around Limón, he seemed to know everyone's racket, from the drug kingpins behind razor-wire-topped fences to a guy on a corner selling drinks from a cooler. "He keeps the turtle eggs in his truck," Bernie whispered conspiratorially. At one house he stopped to chat with a shirtless, heavily tattooed man. The guy offered his condolences, then said, "Let me know if you need any maintenance work done." As Bernie pulled away he chuckled: "Maintenance. That guy's a hit man."

We drove to a squat concrete building with dark-tinted windows on the edge of town—the office of the OIJ. After Bernie and I passed through a metal detector, one of the case's detectives, tall and athletic, with a 9mm holstered in his jeans, agreed to speak with me anonymously. He said that OIJ investigators in Limón were the busiest in the country due to drug-related crime. I asked whether he thought the killers were traffickers, and he shook his head wearily. "If they were narcos, it would have been a disaster," he said. "Every one of them would have been killed."

Like Calderón, he promised that Mora would not be a mere statistic. He insisted that they were closing in on serious leads. Walking out, Bernie told me he had spoken in private with the detective, to whom he'd been feeding every scrap of information he'd gotten. "He told me, 'We are very close to getting them, but we don't want them to know because they'll get away.' "

Bernie's PI trail led back to Moín, where he had tracked down a potential witness—a man who lived near the beach. The man had been the first to find Mora early on the morning of May 31. He walked Bernie to the spot where he'd found the body. As he described it, there were signs of a struggle from the footprints around the car. It looked to him like Mora had escaped his captors and dashed down the beach. Another set of tracks seemed to show a body being dragged back to the vehicle.

Bernie had begged the man for some clue, mentioning Paul Watson's reward, which had now swelled to $56,000. "He said, 'No, no, I don't need the money. It's not that I don't need it, it's just that they did something very bad.' " If he talked, he was sure that he and his family would be killed.

{%{"image":"","caption":"A poachers hut near Playa Moin."}%}

ON JULY 31, the OIJ conducted a predawn raid, called Operation Baula, at several houses around Limón. Dozens of armed agents arrested six men, including Felipe Arauz, the 38-year-old Nicaraguan immigrant suspected of being the ringleader of the violent hueveros. A seventh man was caught ten days later. The suspects were Darwin and Donald Salmón Meléndez, William Delgado Loaiza, Héctor Cash Lopez, Enrique Centeno Rivas, and Bryan Quesada Cubillo. While Lizano knew of the alleged killers, she was relieved that she hadn't worked with them. "Thank God none were my poachers," she said.

Detectives from the OIJ had been talking to informants and quietly tracking Mora's stolen cell phone. According to court documents, one of the suspects, Quesada, 20, had continued to use it, sending incriminating texts. One read: "We dragged him on the beach behind Felipe's car and you know it."

{%{"quote":"The cop next to me, young and jumpy in the darkness, pulled his M4's slide back, racking a cartridge. As I crouched down, I saw two green dots floating—the glow-in-the-dark sights of a drawn 9mm. About 100 yards off, the police had spotted a couple of shadowy figures. Hueveros."}%}

To Lizano, the motive was clearly revenge, but the authorities cast the crime as "a simple robbery and assault." They also laid blame on Mora and Lizano's failed attempt to hire poachers for conservation. An OIJ spokesman claimed that the program had bred resentment among hueveros. The accusation infuriated Lizano. "They're just looking for a scapegoat," she said.

Lizano thought that the authorities were deflecting blame. It turned out that on the night of the murder, a police patrol had encountered several of the suspects—they were the same men the cops had warned Mora about. A few hours later the gang lay in wait. Whether or not they intended to kill Mora will be argued at the trial later this spring.

Even so, the arrests haven't brought much closure to those closest to Mora. Almudena, back in Madrid, was deeply depressed when I reached her. "Jairo is dead," she said. "For me there is no justice." The only positive outcome, as she saw it, would be for a preserved beach. "In ten years, there have to be turtles at Moín," she said. "If not, this has happened for nothing."

Lizano, meanwhile, redoubled her efforts to protect Moín. Any legislative change to preserve the beach is far off, and the turtles now face an additional threat—a massive container-port development project that a Dutch conglomerate hopes to build nearby. Still, Lizano told me, "I really believe it has to continue. I can't stop and let the poachers win. For me it's not an option."

In July, Lizano brought Fedé back to Moín. She woke him up one morning before sunrise, and together with a group of volunteers they walked to the beach. The night before, at the sanctuary, the first turtle hatchlings had broken up through the sand in their styrofoam-cooler nests. Lizano showed Fedé how to lift the tiny flapping things out and set them gently on the sand. The people stood back and watched as the turtles inched down the beach, making their way toward the breaking waves and an uncertain future.

Matthew Power wrote about Australia's northern territory in February 2012.

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Sizing Up Sally Jewell

THE INTERIOR SECRETARY recognized the jacket and boots I wore to her office. Four months earlier she’d been selling them.

“They let you in here wearing that?” Sally Jewell said, giving the once-over to my North Face soft shell and Zamberlan hiking boots.

Jewell, the former REI chief executive who is now in charge of one-fifth of the U.S. landmass, 700 million acres of subsurface mineral estate, 1.7 billion acres of offshore territory, 401 national parks, 561 national wildlife refuges, 476 bureau of reclamation dams, 2,055 endangered or threatened species, and the maintenance of good relations with 566 American Indian tribes, smiled and led me into her working quarters.

“Holy shit,” I couldn’t help but blurt out.

The office of the Secretary of the Interior has long been one of the most formidable redoubts in the federal government. In scope the corner suite rivals the state of Montana—if Big Sky Country were carpeted in royal blue.

“I know,” Jewell said. “I’m still getting used to the size of it.”

The same could be said of Jewell’s new job, which the sinewy, silver-haired, 57-year-old executive took over in early April. In the 164-year history of the Interior Department, no incoming secretary has faced such a steep learning curve. Last December, she had nothing more pressing on her mind than the holiday sales figures at Recreational Equipment Incorporated, the outdoor-gear cooperative she’d run for the past eight years. Then came a phone call from President Barack Obama, who offered an upgrade she couldn’t refuse.

"This is the one job I would have left REI for,” she told me. “I’m not sure there’s another one out there.”

If the offer was a surprise to Jewell, it was equally unexpected to members of the capital’s chattering class, none of whom had Jewell on the list of likely successors to Ken Salazar, Obama’s first-term Interior boss. With zero political experience and an eclectic three-phase career (petroleum engineer, banker, outdoor retailer), Jewell gave everyone something to love—and to worry about. The American Petroleum Institute liked her oil-field experience. The Natural Resources Defense Council saw (it hoped) a nominee with “the heart of an environmentalist and the know-how of a business woman.”

For the outdoor industry, her appointment brought long-sought recognition of recreation’s place on public lands. Here was a cabinet secretary whose adventure résumé rivaled her executive CV. She’s climbed Antarctica’s Vinson Massif, and she summited Mount Rainier the first of seven times at age 16. “This is a paradigm change, not just for our industry but for America,” says Black Diamond CEO Peter Metcalf, who once shared a rope with Jewell on Liberty Bell, a classic climb in the North Cascades. “Secretary of the interior is traditionally a job given with a nod to industries like oil and gas or ranching. Today, much of the GNP on public lands comes from non-extractive industries like recreation, tourism, and ecological services.” Now, Metcalf says, “politics have finally caught up with reality.”

“You’ve got somebody who fundamentally gets the fact that there’s a huge economic stream” flowing from protected wildlands, says Adam Cramer, who heads the outdoor alliance, an industry group that lobbies for recreation and conservation. “Oil, gas, timber, and grazing aren’t the only ways to make money from the federal estate.”

President Obama agrees. “She knows the link between conservation and good jobs,” he said in announcing Jewell’s nomination. “She knows that there’s no contradiction between being good stewards of the land and our economic progress—that, in fact, those two things need to go hand in hand.”

In a nod to her passion for the outdoors, Obama said, “For Sally, the toughest part of this job will probably be sitting behind a desk.”

Hardly. The toughest part may be keeping Interior relevant at a time when the biggest environmental battles are being fought on the turf of rival agencies. Jewell has plenty on her plate, to be sure. In the next three years, her department will set new rules for fracking on federal land, oversee the first offshore Atlantic wind installations, decide whether to list hundreds of proposed endangered species, double the number of renewable-energy projects on public land, regulate offshore Alaskan oil exploration, and defend the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) against the ever present threat of oil and gas exploration. But the signature green campaigns of Obama’s second term are being waged by the Environmental Protection agency, where carbon regulation will be shaped, and, of all places, the state Department, which will help decide the fate of the Keystone XL pipeline.

Oh, and there’s one other thing on her to-do list. Interior secretaries traditionally bear the burden of establishing a president’s environmental legacy. Stewart Udall, the secretary under both Kennedy and Johnson, created the Canyon Lands and North Cascades National Parks and the Appalachian National Scenic Trail, and he oversaw passage of the Wilderness Act. Walter Hickel, Richard Nixon’s Interior head, saved the Everglades when developers wanted to turn it into the world’s largest airport. Under Bill Clinton, Bruce Babbitt gave the department a transfusion of environmental values and created the National Landscape Conservation System, which helps safeguard 27 million acres of BLM land. Even Dirk Kempthorne, George W. Bush’s second-term secretary, managed to create the world’s largest marine protected area, the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands Marine National Monument.

So far, Obama’s legacy is muddled at best. If he left office tomorrow, he’d be known for his ramp-up of renewable energy, for being not as bad as W., and for not much else. When I first spoke with Jewell, she was still emerging from senate confirmation mode: smile and speak only in vague platitudes. “I’m finding my way with a lot of help from the people here at Interior,” she told me. “My primary focus has been on listening. Listening to what’s been done before me, listening to the mistakes that others have made. Listening to the president and his agenda, and considering the role that Interior can play.” It wasn’t a bad early strategy: ears open, mouth shut. But before long, Jewell would have to stop listening and start acting. Because she faces one of the biggest challenges in Washington: creating an environmental legacy for a president who seems indifferent about having one.

When Obama took office in early 2009, environmentalists’ hopes were over the moon. The ruinous record of his predecessor was best summed up by Robert F. Kennedy Jr., who predicted that “George W. Bush will go down as the worst environmental president in U.S. history.” Much of the damage had taken place in and through the Department of the Interior, which, under Gale Norton, had become a den of corruption.

Bush’s appointees made oil and gas leasing their top priority, demoting conservation-minded managers, harassing scientists, cutting secret deals, partying with drilling executives, and encouraging greasy lobbyists like “Casino Jack” Abramoff, who scammed Indian tribes on casino deals, to roam the halls of Interior headquarters at 18th and C. In 2006, Inspector General Earl Devaney, charged with making sure Interior officials followed the law, summed up the situation under Norton: “simply stated, short of a crime, anything goes at the highest levels of the Department of the Interior.”

In 2007, Steven Griles, Norton’s right-hand man, was sentenced to federal prison for obstructing the investigation into the Abramoff scandal. Abramoff himself pleaded guilty to conspiracy, mail fraud, and tax evasion. Norton was later investigated but never charged over unrelated conflict-of-interest questions raised about leases won by the oil giant Royal Dutch Shell, for whom she went to work upon leaving Interior.

To rehab the department, Obama chose Ken Salazar, a Colorado rancher and an old friend from the Senate. The day Salazar was sworn in, White house chief of staff Rahm Emanuel walked up to Tom Strickland, Salazar’s deputy secretary, poked him in the chest, and said, “Clean up that mess.”

Salazar took out the trash. He immediately withdrew 77 oil and gas leases in Utah’s red-rock country—more than 100,000 acres—auctioned off in the final days of the Bush administration (and made famous by eco-activist Tim DeChristopher, who was imprisoned for false bidding) and revised leasing rules to prevent another Utah debacle. He issued a 20-year ban on new uranium mining around the Grand Canyon. He also moved quickly to appoint conservation-minded directors of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Bureau of Land Management, and the National Park Service. Fish and Wildlife began moving dozens of stalled endangered-species listings through the evaluation process.

Job one for Salazar, though, was renewable energy. Solar and wind projects had been back-burnered by Bush’s BLM officials; for eight years, not a single solar project had been approved. Declaring Interior “the real department of energy,” Salazar replaced Bush’s “drill, baby, drill” policy with a shine-and-spin initiative. He fast-tracked 35 solar, wind, and geothermal projects—capable of generating 10,500 megawatts, enough to power 1.6 million U.S. homes—and approved offshore wind turbines along the Atlantic coast. When conservationists raised alarms about flyways turning into bird blenders and solar projects destroying desert tortoise habitat, Salazar responded with a siting process, called smart from the start, that identified appropriate zones for future renewables development.

That didn’t slow down oil and gas production. In Obama’s first three years, his all-of-the-above energy strategy produced more oil than Bush did in his final three years. The BLM approved about 4,000 drilling permits per year—down from the record number issued under Bush, but twice the permitting rate of the 1990s. Oil and gas data are notoriously susceptible to political skewing, but to get a real sense, look to the number of leases challenged by grassroots groups like the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance. SUWA went bonkers during the Bush years, protesting hundreds of leases in fragile habitat. In 2009, 47 percent of all leases sold were challenged in federal court by environmental groups. By 2012, that number had fallen to 18 percent.

Like Obama, Salazar was just moderate enough to infuriate conservative critics and disappoint environmental allies. When Fish and Wildlife listed the polar bear as endangered in 2008, Kempthorne infamously slipped in a rule prohibiting the government from using the Endangered Species Act to regulate greenhouse-gas emissions, the very cause of the bear’s decline. Salazar froze Kempthorne’s order—but ultimately allowed the controversial clause to stand. After breaking up the inept Minerals Management Service in the wake of BP’s Deepwater horizon spill, he let Shell conduct oil exploration in Alaska’s rough and risky Chukchi and Beaufort seas.

Overall, environmental advocates seemed to give Obama passing grades: a B minus or a solid C. “I had high hopes for this administration,” says Jamierappaport Clark, executive director of Defenders of Wildlife and the head of Fish and Wildlife under Bruce Babbitt during President Clinton’s second term. “From an imperiled-wildlife and conservation stand-point, the first term has been disappointing. It’s hard to look back and see anything bold, aggressive, or earth-shattering.”

“Interior needs a visionary, not a mechanic,” SUWA legislative director Richard Peterson-Cremer wrote when Salazar stepped down. “The Obama administration has a real opportunity to change its course on public lands. The question is not whether it has time enough and space—it does—but whether it has will enough and steel.”

“I’VE BEEN TOLD that coming up to speed in this job is like drinking from a fire hose,” Jewell told a gathering of Interior Department employees in Portland, Oregon, in June. “Actually, I’ve found that it’s more like a water main.”

The line drew chuckles from the friendly, if skeptical, DOI bureaucrats. They’d seen secretaries come and go. Many of the department’s 70,000 employees were hired during the Babbitt years, and a few are old enough to remember the 22-month term of James Watt, the Reagan appointee who still holds the crown as the most environmentally destructive interior secretary in history. Billed as a meet-the-boss session, Jewell’s day in Portland was a chance for her to shake hands and make friends in the field offices. Unlike Salazar, who arrived with dozens of allies in the senate and installed his own “Colorado mafia” of well-seasoned appointees, Jewell had to build a network from scratch, working rooms like the Portland federal-building auditorium. There, 150 staffers spread themselves in agency-specific clusters: Bureau of Indian Affairs officials over here, Fish and Wildlife biologists over there, BLM folks in the back. “Anybody from the Park service?” Jewell asked. “No? Well, I guess it is the Friday of Memorial Day weekend. They’re kind of busy.”
a natural informality attends to her. Give Jewell a lectern and she’ll avoid it. Offer the choice between a hike and a backroom one-on-one, she’ll lace up her boots. She connects with personal stories, not policy. And so, in Portland, she spoke about her life.

Born in England, she moved to Seattle at age three when her father, Peter Roffey, took a fellowship in anesthesiology at the University of Washington Medical School. Eager to fit in, Roffey became REI member #17249 and bought his first tent from alpinist Jim Whittaker. Young Sally Roffey spent weekends hiking in the Cascades and sailing the family’s eight-foot dinghy on Puget Sound. “We used to camp everywhere we went,” she recalled.

At the University of Washington, she studied mechanical engineering and met her future husband, Warren Jewell, a fellow engineering student. After graduation, the pair took jobs with Mobil Oil in the roughneck fields of southern Oklahoma. She enjoyed the work, but it was the oil business in the seventies, and the glass ceiling hung low. “I wanted to work on offshore oil rigs, but Mobil wouldn’t allow any women on their rigs, except in Norway,” she told Interior employees in Portland. “I figured that was a long way to go for work.”

Then she heard that banks were hiring engineers to help evaluate oil and gas investments. She and Warren wanted to move back to the Pacific Northwest, so she talked her way into a job with Seattle-based rainier bank. The oil boom was showing signs of shakiness, but two rival Seattle institutions, Rainier and Seattle First National bank (Seafirst), continued to lay heavy bets. Jewell steered Rainier away from a number of bad investments, and when oil went bust in the mid-1980s, Seafirst collapsed. Jewell became known as the woman who saved Rainier Bank.

There are certain kinds of people who hire on as interns and, within a few years, end up running the place. Jewell’s rise was like that. By the late 1980s, she was overseeing Rainier’s entire loan portfolio, and when she left in 1992 to join West One Bank, a smaller regional operation, she was CEO of its Washington subsidiary within a year. Meanwhile, she was raising two children, Peter and Anne, both now grown and living in Seattle. her style wasn’t aggressive or brash; rather, say colleagues, she comes across as sensible and polite. “Sally is able to judge situations in a very sophisticated way,” says Seattle attorney William Gates Sr., who is the father of the Microsoft founder and served with Jewell on the UW board of regents. “She’s a person who very often has the right answer for the question under discussion.”

REI recruited Jewell to its board in 1996, attracted by her combination of backcountry experience and banking savvy. By 2005, she was CEO. REI was a foundering ship at the time, burdened by too much debt and knocked on its heels by an ill-advised foray into Japan. Jewell closed the overseas outlet, paid down the debt (the co-op now has none), and embarked on a slow national expansion, opening a handful of well-chosen, self-financed stores every year, including a 39,000-square-foot Manhattan base camp in 2011. Last year the company’s website and 127 stores reported revenue of $1.9 billion, making it the biggest consumer cooperative in the nation.

Meanwhile, Jewell pushed a triple-bottom-line ethos that emphasized environmental ethics and employee relations as much as profit and loss. That’s Jewell’s strong suit: getting the best out of people, but in a low-key way. “She was always asking questions, soliciting points of view,” says Camelbak chief executive Sally McCoy, who worked with Jewell on the industry-supported wildlands group Conservation alliance.

One of Jewell’s favorite books is Orbiting the Giant Hairball, Gordon MacKenzie’s guide to fostering creativity within a corporate bureaucracy. It’s an idea she’s pushing at Interior. “Did you know the engineers at hoover Dam are buying spare parts on eBay because nobody makes them anymore?” she asked her staffers. “If there’s something you’re doing as part of your job that makes no sense, tell me about it. Raise a holler. One of the things I told everyone at REI was: We’ve got to stop doing things that don’t make sense and concentrate on the things that do.”
Let me help you do your job better: that’s the message going out to the field from Madame secretary. “I’m a businessperson,” Jewell told her troops. “I’ve got 30 years in business and two months in the federal government.” a lot of people do outstanding work at Interior, she said. “I want you to know I’ve got your back.” she let that hang for a moment, leaving unsaid the second half of the sentence: and I’m hoping you’ll have mine.

To do what exactly wasn’t yet clear.

ON MOST WEEKDAY mornings, Sally Jewell walks to work under the haunting eyes of her predecessors. Along the hall outside her office hang large oil paintings of Salazar, Norton, Watt, and the rest, and in the lobby there’s a bust of Udall, widely acknowledged as the greatest interior secretary of the modern era.

In case Jewell doesn’t feel the weight, every once in a while a former secretary will pop up with some unsolicited advice.

Hello, Bruce Babbitt! 
In a bit of exquisite timing, Babbitt, the most influential secretary since Udall, issued a challenge to Obama 24 hours before the president nominated Jewell. “So far, under President Obama, industry has been winning the race,” he said during a speech at the National Press Club. “Over the past four years, the [oil and gas] industry has leased more than 6 million acres, compared with only 2.6 million acres permanently protected. In the Obama era, land conservation is again falling behind.”

Babbitt called for a one-for-one scheme that would protect an acre of public land for every acre put up for lease.

It’s an idea worth considering, but it also relies on a bygone metric. Environmentalism has expanded beyond its traditional protect-the-land-and-water paradigm. These days, the movement has become as much about energy and carbon, and that expanded focus has sent policy beyond the neat boundaries of Interior. The State Department is doing the environmental analysis for the proposed Keystone XL pipeline (because the pipe, which would deliver Canadian tar-sands oil to Gulf Coast refineries, crosses an international border), which effectively gives Obama the sole up-or-down vote. Interior has criticized state’s characterization of the pipeline’s wildlife impact as “inaccurate,” and in June the president said he’ll OK Keystone only “if this project does not significantly exacerbate the problem of carbon pollution.”

"Significantly"—that’s a word that allows a lot of room to operate.

Obama said this while announcing his climate-change initiative, a series of moves that bypass Congress and deal with global warming through executive orders. Interior plays a part—the president called for a redoubling of renewable-energy development on federal land—but most of the action will continue to happen at the EPA, which ran point on carbon under first-term administrator Lisa Jackson. The centerpiece of Obama’s climate initiative is an EPA-led clampdown on carbon pollution from power plants, which accounts for more than a third of U.S. greenhouse-gas emissions. It remains to be seen whether Obama has the will to follow through; the president backed Jackson on a number of clean-air initiatives, but in 2011 he caved on tougher smog standards after big polluters screamed job loss—as they’re already doing on the power-plant rule.

As if to underscore the centrality of the EPA—not Interior—to the president’s environmental agenda, senate republicans let Jewell’s nomination proceed while blocking Obama’s second-term EPA nominee, Gina McCarthy, for 136 days before confirming her in early July. a tough-talking Bostonian who ran Jackson’s clean-air team, McCarthy wasted little time in declaring that “we will act” to cut carbon pollution. She followed up on that pledge in September, when the EPA proposed new rules capping carbon emissions from new coal and natural-gas power plants. Similar caps for existing plants—where the real battle will come—are expected in 2014.

Jewell and McCarthy may end up playing good cop, bad cop for Obama on climate change—Jewell the gentle reconciler in a fleece jacket, McCarthy the brassy brawler straight out of The Departed. It’s a good match, because the EPA will surely draw more fire than Interior. Reducing emissions hits polluters in the wallet; expanding renewables offers the promise of profit. And Jewell’s confirmation led no one to believe that she’d pull back on oil and gas development. “We will continue to pursue the president’s all-of-the-above energy strategy,” she said at her senate hearing, and she hammered the point for months thereafter.

Inevitably, Jewell’s charm offensive has to give way to tough policy decisions if she wants to be something more than a caretaker. She’s not going to be the second coming of Udall—nobody will. What saint stew wanted, he got, thanks to a compliant Congress, an open checkbook, and a president preoccupied with Vietnam. Since Jewell took office, she’s confronted an insanely hostile Congress, a government shutdown that closed the parks, and a boss whose environmental commitment seems to come and go.

Is there still room for greatness at Interior? Bruce Babbitt thinks so. “Sally Jewell has the background, she has the national constituency, and she has the president’s confidence,” he told me over the phone from his office in Washington. Babbitt, now semi-retired, ticked off those qualities as if they were tools in a Jobox—here’s your hammer, there’s your tape and nails, get to work. “She has a fantastic opportunity to address a number of important issues.”

SO WHAT WOULD a Jewell legacy look like? “I don’t think about my own legacy,” she told me back in June. “I do think about a legacy for President Obama.” Exactly what that might be remained an open question.
 The answers began to come 111 days into her term, when the secretary pivoted from listening to leading. At a speech given at DOI headquarters and webcast to field offices nationwide, she laid out the top priorities. The more traditional goals included ramping up renewable-energy production, repairing the Native American education system, and addressing looming water catastrophes like the massively overburdened Colorado River. Jewell told staffers her agenda wasn’t “radically different than what you’ve been doing. Maybe a little tweaking, a little change.”

On climate, she showed that she can be bold. “I hope there are no climate-change deniers in the Department of the Interior,” she said to her team. “If you don’t believe in it, come out into the resources. Come out to Alaska, which is melting. Go in to the sierra,” which is losing its snowpack. It was a strong, clear message that raised howls among fringe denialists but provided cover to the scientists and biologists in Interior’s ranks.

We could use more of that straight-up fact facing, the courage to point at a cow pie and call it bullshit. Specifically, Jewell has a rare opportunity when it comes to oil and gas regulations. Interior’s proposed rules for fracking on federal land are a joke, modeled on a template put out several years ago by the American Legislative Exchange Council, the conservative bill mill backed in part by billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch. Jewell commands both the respect of the drilling guys—she knows how to frack a well herself—and the support of environmentalists; she’s in a unique position to give the regulations real teeth.

Ditto the rules for siting oil and gas leases on fragile lands. An early test will come in Utah, where the BLM has proposed 82 leases for the San Rafael swell, a recreationally important and biologically rich region often mentioned for monument designation. The leases, scheduled for auction in November, pin Jewell between her oil experience and her conservationist leanings. When I asked her about the skepticism with which outdoor enthusiasts usually greet drilling, she struck a decidedly non-Babbittian tone. “I think it’s important for people to step back and look at their own lifestyle and acknowledge that it’s difficult if not impossible to not be a user of fossil fuels,” Jewell told me. “Most outdoor recreationists drive to a destination. Some walk softer than others, but we all have an impact. It’s important to understand that and not vilify the industries that we rely upon.”

Other issues are also going to intersect oil and gas. She’s unlikely to halt the full delisting of the gray wolf, but her leadership could either cause or avert a legal train wreck over the possible listing of the greater sage grouse, a bird whose habitat of existing and potential oil fields could make it the spotted owl of the Intermountain West.

Much of the action during Jewell’s term will happen in Alaska: the ANWR stalemate will likely continue, and Obama shows no signs of slowing Shell’s push into the Chukchi Sea. But Jewell has real power when it comes to Bristol Bay, breeding ground for the world’s most productive salmon runs. It’s an airport-or-Everglades issue. One of two global conglomerates planning a gold mine there pulled out of the project this fall. Jewell and Obama could build on that momentum by creating a wildlife refuge or national monument on federal land. It wouldn’t stop the mine (which is on state land), but it would throw up roadblocks. “If you’re going to allow offshore leasing in Alaska, there ought to be offsetting designations of protected areas,” Babbitt says. “Using the Antiquities Act to protect Bristol Bay is a great opportunity.”

Those are the traditional big gets for Jewell’s term. But the question remains: What does she want her legacy to be?

THE KEY to Sally Jewell is that there’s no grand ideology at work. She’s neither neocon nor neolib. She doesn’t align herself with the Aldo Leopold school of conservation or the Bill McKibben carbon-fighting corps. Policy is driven by the personal and the pragmatic. She’s got to get on the ground and see what’s going on, paddle Rhode Island’s Blackstone River, as she did in May; handle an invasive boa in the Everglades (April); or circle Washington’s Squaxin Island, as she does every New Year’s Day in her kayak. She’s worked on the Alaska pipeline; she knows the benefits oil companies can bring, and she knows the environmental harm they can wreak. Most of all, she knows what outdoor exposure did for her as a girl, so she wants to spread the gospel of adventure among the next generation.

That commitment was on display on an early June morning in D.C., when the secretary of the interior went fishing with some kids on the Anacostia River.

“How many of you have ever been fishing?” Jewell asked. A few hands went up. “How many have ever been out on the river?” Fewer hands. Their parents and grandparents didn’t use the river because, back in the day, the Anacostia was a veritable sewer. Now that it’s clean—er, cleaner—the kids don’t use it because it’s not connected to a screen.

Once the kids were herded onto a tour boat, Jewell encouraged the youngsters to bait hooks, cast carefully, reel in, and see what they’d caught. She did her best work one-on-one, talking with young girls about the outdoors, and life, and siblings, and school, and whatever. Away from the microphones, the old silver-haired white lady actually forged a connection with a couple of young African-American girls. They spoke in low voices, with long, natural silences. As they baited a hook, one girl asked, “Doesn’t that hurt the worm?”

Jewell paused before answering. “Yes,” she said. “Yes, I suppose it does.”

It wasn’t a politician’s answer. The words seemed to startle Jewell even as they came out of her mouth. But they also earned the respect of the girl, who considered the information, then continued spearing the nightcrawler.

If there is anywhere that Jewell wants to have a lasting impact, it’s here, with the next generation. “This is one heck of a platform,” she told me in her office, “to help people understand about our planet, about our public lands, about the role they play in caring for our resources.”

Indeed, when she laid out her goals for the department in July, the last two were these: “celebrating and enhancing America’s great outdoors” and luring the millennial generation into the wilds.

That first part refers to the America’s great outdoors Initiative, a fuzzy, feel-good effort created during Obama’s first term. The idea was to connect an increasingly urban, plugged-in citizenry with its public land and waterways—but nobody on Salazar’s team figured out how to give it purpose and clarity. As Jewell receives it, America’s great outdoors can become whatever she wants it to be.

She can use it to lure more Hispanics and African-Americans into the parks, to expand the constituency of the outdoors. And she can use it to get kids to unplug. Last Child in the Woods, journalist Richard Louv’s exploration of kids’ increasing disconnection from the natural world, is a touchstone book for Jewell, and she’s determined to use her bully pulpit to fight the syndrome Louv calls nature-deficit disorder.

This is where Jewell’s true passion lies, and she’s already made it a top priority. There are easy fixes she can make: she can direct park and refuge managers to reconceptualize their most accessible areas to attract underserved communities. She can empower young Park Service rangers and reach the millennials where they live, on social media. But she has an opportunity to go even bigger, to create a signature program under her watch. To do that, she could revamp Interior’s partnership with the Student Conservation Association, which provides high school and college students paid, hands-on internships in parks and wilderness areas. SCA is one of America’s greatest programs, but it’s largely unknown outside of outdoor culture. It could become a public-service option as famous as teach for America or a brand as strong as outward bound. Franklin Roosevelt had the Civilian Conservation Corps; a supersized SCA could be Obama’s next-gen public-works project. With a one-month stint in SCA, you’ll hook a kid on the outdoors for life.

Youth and climate change: those could be the overriding themes of a great Jewell administration—and the foundation of Obama’s environmental legacy.

“We need warriors for that battle on climate change,” Jewell told me when I caught up with her again in July, at a youth summit in Seattle. The secretary seemed clear and confident in her message. “If I don’t get these young people engaged, they’re not going to care about and support the outdoors. I only have three and a half years. So I gotta get going.”

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