by Ed Shepard
There has been a lot happening since the spring edition of the Monitor. There have been personnel changes with BLM and Department leadership, BLM vacancies are being filled and other positions are being vacated, the proposed Headquarters move is still being developed, the Department’s reorganization is being “tweaked”, and PLF’s membership survey results have been analyzed and recommendations are being prepared for consideration.
On the personnel front, David Bernhardt was confirmed by the U.S. Senate on April 11 as the 53rd Secretary of the Interior. He used his time as the Acting Secretary to get a running head start and, at least from my perspective, to begin moving forward on filling critical positions at a faster pace than we’ve seen in the last few years. Although at this time, a permanent Director for the BLM has still not been nominated. We wish the new Secretary well on running what is one of the more diverse missioned departments in the Federal government.
In late April, Brian Steed, BLM’s Deputy Director for Policy and Programs and Acting Director was named by Utah Governor Herbert as the Executive Director of the Utah Department of Natural Resources. Brian left the BLM in May, after being confirmed by the Utah State Senate. He had served as the BLM Acting Director since October 2017. The Secretary has recently assigned principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Land and Minerals Management, Casey Hammond, to the position of “exercising authority” of the BLM Director. Before taking his position in the Office of the Assistant Secretary, Casey was a senior advisor to the Oversight Subcommittee of the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Natural Resources where he had served for several years. Best wishes to Brian and Casey on their new assignments.
The BLM State Director positions are also being filled. John Mehlhoff was recently named State Director for the Montana/Dakotas State Office. John most recently was an executive with the DOI Office of Natural Resources Revenue (ONRR), but many of you remember John as a longtime BLMer who has served in several offices in the west and Washington and was the Colorado Associate State Director before moving over to ONRR. The California and Oregon/Washington State Director positions however are still vacant. There are still several Assistant Director positions open, the most recent being the AD for Renewable Resources and Planning (AD-200) that was vacated when Kristin Bail recently accepted the Forest Supervisor position on the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest in Washington.
Uncertainty continues surrounding the proposals to reorganize the Department and the BLM. Secretary Bernhardt has indicated that he intends to review the proposed reorganization of the Department into twelve Regions, questioning the workab-0ility of a joint commander for the Regions. While it is not known at this time how far the Secretary will tweak the Department reorganization, it appears he is moving ahead with some form of a BLM headquarters west. He has confirmed his intentions at several events in the west, including the recent Western Governors meeting in Colorado. He has indicated that not all of the Washington Office would move and that some positions would remain in Washington to fulfill needed duties. The House Appropriations Committee has shown considerable concern with both proposals and has restricted funding for the reorganization in their FY 2020 Appropriations recommendations. The Committee’s recommendations include report language that states “The Committee is not convinced of the efficacy of moving additional personnel out of the headquarters area when approximately 93 percent of Bureau employees are already working in the field and directs that no additional relocations of headquarters staff take place.”
The PLF expressed our concern with the reorganization in our testimony before the House Subcommittee on Interior, Environment and Related Agencies public hearing in late February. We followed up by releasing a position statement on May 1 stating our opposition to moving the Headquarters and the necessity to have the Headquarters located in the D.C. area. The position statement which can be found on our website at www.publicland.org, under the Advocacy and Issues link, received considerable interest from the press. As they say, the devil is in the details, and as of now the details have not been announced. We will continue to track this issue.
Many of you responded to the PLF membership survey and we appreciated you taking the time to let us know your opinion on how the PLF should move forward. A very big thank you to Ray Brady, George Stone, Bob Anderson, George Lea, and Mark Davis. These folks took on the onerous task of compiling and analyzing the survey results and preparing them for discussion and consideration at the Annual Meeting in Reno in September. There are a lot of good suggestions that can help the PLF as it moves forward. Implementing these recommendations will take the work of the entire membership. Please refer to our website at www.publicland.org, under the Membership link, to see the results of the survey.
Speaking of the Annual Meeting, have you registered yet? Registration is open and we hope to see a lot of you at the Peppermill Resort Spa Casino in Reno, on September 10-13. The Board Meeting will be held all day on the 10th and until noon on the 13th and is open to all members. The Annual Meeting committee has been working hard to make this an enjoyable and productive meeting, so please come.
One of the things that the PLF does is track BLM’s history. Recently a big part of the BLM history, particularly fire management history, turned 100 years old. Jack Wilson celebrated his centennial birthday on April 2. Jack was an early driver of interagency fire management and was one of the pioneers of the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, or BIFC as it was called in the early days. Those of us that worked in fire management over the years owe a lot to Jack’s vision. I had the privilege of meeting Jack several times and got to work in the building at NIFC that bears his name. I also got to play golf with Jack when he was a spry 80-year-old. We were on the same team, but I’m sure he would have beaten me. John Fend interviewed Jack on his birthday and, with the help of the Idaho State Office Public Affairs staff, prepared a video to record the event. Happy Birthday, Jack!
I’d like to close by giving some kudos to our two George Lea Founder’s Scholarship recipients, Jill Young from Western Colorado University and Dylan Stewart from the University of Arizona. The two were chosen from a large list of worthy candidates. Each will receive $5,000 to put toward their continuing studies. Congratulations, Jill and Dylan!
Also, kudos to BLM employee Bob Wick. Bob is a photographer out of California. On May 21, the U.S. Postal Service released a set of stamps commemorating Wild and Scenic Rivers. Bob had three of his photos chosen for the stamps. The photos are of the Missouri River in Montana, the Deschutes River in Oregon, and the Clarion River in Pennsylvania. Our Board Representative for Oregon, Jerry Magee, interviewed Bob at the roll out event in Bend, OR and wrote a story for this edition of the Monitor. Thank you, Jerry and congratulations and good work Bob!
And finally, I would also like to take this opportunity to thank Pat Harvey for her assistance over the past many years as co-Editor in putting our newsletter together each quarter. Pat has done an excellent job and her dedication to this task has been deeply appreciated. Margaret Lliteras, recently retired from the DOI Budget Office, has volunteered to assume the duties as the co-Editor of the Monitor, and the PLF has also decided to use some new desktop publishing software to modernize the look of the newsletter. We look forward to these changes and thank Margaret for her willingness to assist the PLF in moving into the future.
I hope you all have a good summer and take the time to enjoy family, friends, and our public lands. Be safe and see you in Reno.