Lifetime Service Award

J. Russell Penny
J. Russell Penny

The Public Lands Foundation grants to J. Russell ‘Russ’ Penny, posthumously, its Outstanding Lifetime Achievement Award.  The Foundation provides this Award annually to deserving current or deceased members who have perpetuated and enhanced the proud tradition of public service.  Russ exemplifies that tradition through a lifetime of managing and protection of the Nation’s Public Land Resources and other service for the public good.

Russ devoted 36 years of his adult life to service to his country.  He was a pioneer in the development of the grazing program.  He started in 1937 in what is now Wyoming’s Rock Springs District as a Range Examiner for the Interior Department’s Division of Grazing.  He was instrumental in getting the Advisory Board system off the ground in that District.  Stationed in Kemmerer, he negotiated early range line agreements.  He also worked on some groundbreaking trespass cases.  As District Grazier in 1942, he moved the District Office from Green River to Rock Springs.

In late 1943 he joined the Marine Corps and served until 1946.  On his return he was assigned to the Regional Office in Billings.  Among his many other assignments he was tasked to develop a work plan for the region.  This was a first effort for BLM and laid out the work load, costs and personnel by District.  It was very well received.

Russ attended Harvard University during the 1950-51 school year.  With a Masters Degree in Public Administration in hand, he joined the Washington Office Division of Range Management.  His work on regulations and legislation influenced Bureauwide operations.  He was also the senior author of of a published book, the History of the Advisory Board and Grazing District System, co-authored by Director Marion Clawson.

When Russ left Washington D.C. in 1954, he started his career as a State Director.  He was the first to have that position in Idaho.  He later served in Montana, Nevada, and California.  He was skilled at dealing with user groups, politicians, and the Washington hierarchy.  He had a knack for judging people and their skills.  He made sure his people were well-developed and challenged to reach their full potential.  He took a keen interest in all the resources he was charged with managing.

Attention-getting fire events seemed to follow him.  The Idaho 1956 fire season, the Siebgen Fire in Montana, Charleston Mountain, and the 1964 Elko Fire Storm.  Each of these events motivated Russ to push for better equipment, better training, and better follow-up rehabilitation to protect the soil and vegetative resource.  Even as the Elko fires were burning he was developing a soil stabilization rehabilitation program.  He followed up with securing the funding to get the job done.  Perhaps the Crown Jewel in his career was his work on the California Desert that would bring protection and management to that National Ecosystem Treasure.

The Public Land Foundation is honored to recognize Russ with this award.

The award was made posthumously at the Foundation’s Annual Meeting in Boise, Idaho in September, 2004.