WASHINGTON - The U.S. Senate voted to confirm Sally Jewell as the new secretary of the interior Wednesday, sending the REI chief executive to the helm of a sprawling agency grappling with major decisions ranging from Arctic oil exploration to protection for the lesser prairie chicken.

The 87-11 vote came three weeks after Jewell's nomination passed the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee by a 19-3 vote and two months after President Obama made her the first woman picked for his second-term Cabinet.

Arizona Sens. John McCain and Jeff Flake, both Republicans, voted in favor of Jewell.

Jewell, 57, is expected to be sworn in as early as today and immediately replace Ken Salazar, who resigned to return to his ranch in Colorado.

Jewell's lifelong interest in conservation issues has environmentalists hopeful that she will build on Salazar's advocacy for public lands.

"She understands the value of these lands" for the recreational economy, said Brady Robinson of the Access Fund, a nonprofit outdoors-advocacy group in Boulder, Colo.

A slew of tough issues awaits in her new job, including a proposed road through Alaska's Izembek National Wildlife Refuge, offshore oil drilling in the Arctic, and whether to declare the sage grouse as endangered, a move that would put 2,600 square miles of habitat off-limits to energy exploration.