By Ed Shepard

Where does the time go?  It seems like only a few days ago that we were taking down the Christmas tree and putting away the decorations.  Now, it is already spring (at least here in the Northwest) and it is time to think about getting ready for summer.  There is so much going on in the public lands arena that it makes my head spin and finding time to keep up with everything is not easy.  I’m thankful that PLF has many on the board that are stepping up to help, and that help has led to a special opinion piece in this quarter’s newsletter.   Included in this edition of the “Monitor” is an interview with the Honorable Sally Jewell, who was Secretary of the Interior during the second term of the Obama Administration.   Through the efforts of Ray Brady, who contacted Neal Kornze, who contacted Sally Jewell, she was able to meet up with Geoff Middaugh and have a conversation in Bellingham, Washington, in early February 2018.  It’s an interesting interview from a PLF perspective because Geoff was able to ask her about the future of public lands, the proposed reorganization of the BLM and moving the national headquarters west, the Student Congress of the PLF, and our strategic plan.   She also comments on what can make the PLF relevant in this day and age of conflict about keeping our public lands in public hands.   Of course, she has strong political opinions about what is going on today, and the PLF membership should find it worthwhile to read.   Read it all before you formulate an opinion.

BLM exists and its employees must function within the heated political debate today, and it isn’t easy.   There have always been buffers, through the Hatch Act, and through leadership that tries to keep the day to day politics from impacting local field offices.   But it is hard!  As Secretary Jewell recommends, it might be time for the PLF membership to make a call to a local BLM office and just find out how things are going.  We might be surprised because Washington, D.C. and all the craziness that goes on there, sometimes seems a long way off from Coos Bay, Oregon, Miles City, Montana, or Socorro, New Mexico.  Yet again, the pressures of the overheated political debate may be spilling over more than ever before in the workplace as unrequested transfers, retirements and resignations are increasing.   The pressure on the employees to be able to complete work only grows because the hiring freeze continues and many of the vacated positions remain unfilled.

The Bundy saga continues and some of the Bundy followers that plead guilty are beginning to receive their sentences.  Chris Brong, who retired after a long career in law enforcement with BLM, FWS, Forest Service, and the Corps of Engineers, only to reenter the fray as a Skamania County, Washington county commissioner has written an article for this edition offering his insight on the Bundy story that continues to unravel.  Thank you, Chris, for sharing your thoughts on the continuing story.  Expect to hear a lot more from the Bundys now that Ryan Bundy has announced his candidacy for Nevada governor.

I recently attended the Board meeting of the National Association of Forest Service Retirees (NAFSR).  We agreed previously to try to have a representative at each other’s board meeting when possible.  Former BLM Director Jim Caswell chairs NAFSR and there are other members of NAFSR that also worked for the BLM in the past.  Our two organizations have a lot in common and we agreed to look for more opportunities to work together.  One possible area in which we could work more closely is on the student congress.

As I write this, it is March and budget season.  Like so many years, the agencies are still waiting to know what they will really have to spend this fiscal year while wondering what the next budget will bring.  The President’s budget for 2019 is on the Hill and debate is beginning.  Overall, the President’s proposals don’t look good for BLM with major cuts; some programs fair well while others will be really hurt.  We will be tracking the progress as the appropriations process plays out and will provide our input.  We will also be tracking several major issues and will continue to advocate for the public lands and the employees whenever, wherever, and however we can.

One final request for this Spring Monitor from your president:  PLF continues our work on a strategic plan and we need your thoughts and input.  If you have ideas, opinions, concerns, or whatever, we want to hear from you. Please jot your thoughts down and get them to me, Beau McClure, George Stone, or any member of the board.    We need to hear from the membership, and this means you!