The rising sun was just starting to light up the tops of the sandstone cliffs when Bruce Babbitt arrived at an empty parking lot, ready to set out on a hike.
He chose a trail he knows and loves, a canyon filled with childhood memories and one of his favorite wilderness areas — a fitting place to meet someone who has been immersed in decisions about preserving wilderness for much of his life.
During eight years as secretary of the Interior under President Bill Clinton, and previously as Arizona’s governor, Babbitt distinguished himself as a Democratic politician who skillfully navigated environmental debates and prioritized the conservation of wildlands, streams and wildlife.
In the 1990s, he played a central role in some of the country’s biggest environmental decisions. He helped devise a plan to limit logging and protect the spotted owl in the Pacific Northwest. He presided over reintroducing wolves in Yellowstone National Park. He stood atop a California dam and swung a sledgehammer as he inaugurated a push to take down dams and restore rivers.
He participated in the creation of 19 new national monuments, from Grand Staircase-Escalante in Utah to Giant Sequoia in California, as well as five monuments in Arizona.
He could have chosen to wrap up his career when he left office at the end of the Clinton administration in 2001. But Babbitt has remained actively engaged in issues he cares about.