Obama received an 86 out of a possible 100 in the environmental scorecard for members of Congress published by the League of Conservation Voters. He was also a co-sponsor of a bill that would have protected about 58 million acres of federal lands. The Bush administration had sought to open up those roadless lands to development.
The new administration also faces more fundamental issues. The budgets of such agencies as the U.S. Forest Service have been sharply trimmed in recent years. The Forest Service budget has been sliced by a third, while at the same time more than half its budget is now spent in the fight against catastrophic wildfires.
During the campaign, Obama indicated his administration would "aggressively pursue" a fire prevention, mitigation and land and forest management plan to reduce fire risks.
The Forest Service manages almost 200 million acres across the country, including the Midewin Tall Grass Prairie, near Chicago. While Obama has never officially visited Midewin, Forest Service officials say he and his staff have been supportive.
"It's a very anxious time," Forest Service Chief Gail Kimbell said in an interview. "But I think the Forest Service is well prepared to take on the issues the Obama campaign has been discussing."
Kimbell acknowledged that budget issues, particularly the firefighting costs, have taken a toll. But she said the Forest Service is well aware that climate change has created an extended drought that has stressed trees and left them susceptible to such things as the mountain bark beetle. That has led to a fire season that lasts from January to November.
Dead and dying trees need to be removed and the forests thinned, even if that means felling some of the older trees, she said.
As the Montana primary approached in May, Obama, in perhaps his most succinct statement on public lands issues, answered questions from the Flathead Beacon newspaper in Kalispell.
He said he believed that sustainability — using resources in a way that provides for the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs — was the most important factor in managing federal lands.
"If we're going to have timber industries operating on public lands, then we should make sure that old-growth forests aren't destroyed but it's that second-growth" that harvested, he said.
Obama also told the newspaper that it was critical to designate additional wilderness areas for permanent protection, but that a balance needed to be struck by competing interests on federal lands. He also said his administration would "listen rather than dictate" in working with state and local officials.
"What I want is to be able to pass onto our children and grandchildren the same extraordinary gift that we received from our parents and grandparents," Obama said.
According to McClatchy:
INTERIOR SECRETARY CANDIDATES
Rep. Norm Dicks, D-Wash.
Rep. Jay Inslee, D-Wash.
Rep. George Miller, D-Calif.
Former Alaska Gov. Tony Knowles
Former Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber
New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson
Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer
Wyoming Gov. Dave Freudenthal
Colorado Sen. Ken Salazar
Robert F. Kennedy Jr.
John Leshy, former Interior Department solicitor
Sally Jewell, CEO of Recreational Equipment Inc.
On November 3 Wildfire Today wrote about the transition to another administration at the Department of Homeland Security, including FEMA and emergency management.