by Ed Shepard
What a way to start off the New Year, with our Government partially shut down. This is becoming the norm and it is no way to run anything, let alone the government of the largest economy in the world. I won’t try to partial-out blame for the shutdown, except to say it was not the fault of the rank and file BLM employees that put their boots on and go to work every day. Or should I say, want to go to work every day. In my opinion the fault lies with both the executive and legislative branches that are too accepting of kicking the can down the road until the last minute, creating a crisis, and then using it to try to increase power and position for the next election. This is not fair to the taxpayers, the users of the public lands, those that are dependent on public lands and their uses for their livelihoods, and it certainly is not fair to the employees that just want to do their job.
Okay, now that I’ve vented, I’ll quit rambling and just say that I am grateful for the BLM employees and those of the other land management agencies that show incredible resiliency and come to work with a positive attitude and just want to get on with business and pick up where they left off on December 21, 2018.
During the shutdown, Interior also lost a Secretary with the resignation of Ryan Zinke. David Bernhardt has been acting for the past few months and has been nominated to become the next Secretary of the Interior. He is slated for a hearing soon and may possibly be confirmed by the time this edition of the Monitorgoes to print. There has been some of the normal shuffling of political personnel within the Department due to the changing of the guard and the post mid-term changes. There continues to be many vacancies that have not been filled since the administration change in January 2017 and hopefully the new Secretary will move to fill those positions as quickly as possible.
BLM positions are slowly being filled. Mike Nedd has moved back down the hall to serve as the Deputy Director for Operations, John Ruhs has assumed the Idaho State Director position, and Chad Padgett is the new Alaska State Director. We welcome Chad as a new addition to the BLM and the leadership team. We wish all of these folks success in their new positions. This leaves Oregon/Washington, California, and Montana State Directors yet to be filled, and, if my count is right, five Assistant Directors. Brian Steed continues to serve as Deputy Director for Policy and Programs “exercising the authority of the Director.” I understand that Brian is working lists on at least some of these positions.
I had the opportunity to testify before the House Subcommittee on Interior, Environment and Related Agencies on February 26 on the BLM’s FY 2020 budget. The President’s budget proposal had not yet actually been released so we spoke to some of the major priorities we saw facing BLM, including programs that provide for healthy, resilient landscapes; the conservation of species dependent on the diverse habitats the BLM manages; the economic benefits to the Nation and to rural communities dependent on BLM-managed public lands; “all of the above” energy and associated transmission; and the safety of communities the public lands surround and the public that lives near and uses the public lands. More specifically, we supported funding for traditional and renewable energy and planning for the associated infrastructure this development requires. This development requires balanced funding to support the multiple use mandate of FLPMA. We spoke to the need to fund management for species conservation, particularly sage-grouse and other sagebrush steppe species, and the coordination of that management with state and local partners. The PLF also asked for adequate funding to address the overpopulation of wild horses and burros and to address the land health issues this overpopulation is causing. We asked for funding in support of the Executive and Secretarial Orders on promoting active forest and rangeland management to reduce wildland fire risks and improve conditions. The last points made were in opposition of the BLM headquarters move to an undetermined location in the West and a statement supporting the employees. We also asked the Subcommittee to do what they could to avoid future government shutdowns. You can read the entire witness statement on the PLF website at www.publicland.org>Advocacy&Issues>Letters&Testimony.
Also in February, Beau, Mike Ferguson, and I attended the National Association of Forest Service Retirees Board meeting in Phoenix. The NAFSR has a lot of work on their plate and much of it aligns with PLF’s issues. There are a lot of areas where we are working together and many more where we could be. Our voice is stronger together. Between the two organizations, we have experience managing nearly 440 million acres of the Nation’s public lands.
In the past several weeks the PLF has been asked to give briefings on the Hill to committee staffs on several programs, including range management, energy, and oil and gas. Ray Brady has been instrumental in pulling together retired employees in the Washington area to help with these briefings. These briefings are another way that PLF can provide its perspective to the Hill. Thanks, Ray, for your work on this.
Yes, Congress can work together in a bipartisan way when they want to. The President on March 12 signed into law S. 47, The John D. Dingell Jr. Conservation, Management, and Recreation Act (formerly the Natural Resources Management Act). This new law combined into one Act several issues that have been languishing in Congress for several years. The PLF has supported this Act for some time and, although there are parts that could have been better, it represents a balanced approach that the PLF and most of our partners could agree with and it received overwhelming support. The Act permanently reauthorizes the Land and Water Conservation Fund and provides for increased access to the public lands for recreation and other uses.
Rich Whitley and the awards committee are actively looking for nominees from BLM for the two Outstanding Professional Awards. We have asked BLM leadership for their help in spreading the word to nominate the many deserving employees that should be considered for recognition. We are extending the deadline until May 10. Please make contact with your friends at BLM and ask that they submit nominees to the appropriate State Director. I also ask the PLF state representatives to personally call your State Director and ask that they encourage nominations for these awards. The criteria for the awards can be found on the PLF website at www.publicland.org.
I also want to highlight an online membership survey that the PLF is currently conducting and encourage you to complete the survey before the end of April. The survey is important to provide feedback from our members on our advocacy activities and communication tools, and to assist with our ongoing strategic planning efforts. Additional information on the survey is provided later in this edition of the Monitor.
Finally, it is not too early to start making your plans to attend the PLF Annual Meeting in Reno, on September 10 – 13. I hope that you all enjoy the spring and I hope to see you in Reno in September.