Some of you have heard me say that I am a silviculturist, so by definition, I am an optimist. Further, I was a silviculturist in the hot, dry Medford District making me an eternal optimist. Anytime you put a small tree seedling in the ground with the idea that it will survive and thrive for decades through drought, fire, insects and disease to become a part of a vigorous forest stand, you rely on a lot of science, skill, and hopeful optimism. I need to remind myself of this often these days. We are going through some tough times and this Covid-19 pandemic is enough to get anyone down. We will get through this, as an organization and as a Nation. The public lands that we spent our careers managing and still care deeply about will play a part to help the Country recover, emotionally and economically. I hope that you are all well and pray that you remain that way.
During these times, the PLF remains operating pretty much as normal, as much of our work is accomplished via telephone calls and emails. Keeping prescribed social distancing has not been much of a challenge. However, as things play out, there may need to be some changes. For example, the Monitor may be slower coming out or we may need to temporarily go to a digital format, so that the volunteers that meet to label and mail the Monitor do not have to risk exposure. Planning also continues for the Annual Meeting in Rock Springs in September. We will keep an eye on events and make a decision in July if we will cancel or go on as planned (see Meeting notice in this edition of the Monitor).
Of course, the response to the pandemic is having a big impact on BLM and its employees. The BLM leadership is dusting off plans developed for SARS, H1N1, and other major events and putting them into place. Many, if not most of the employees are telecommuting or trying to work while maintaining proper spacing. I worked on some of the earlier contingency plans and I’m not sure they fully addressed the situation that is evolving now. I assume the BLM leaders are spending a lot of time on conference calls trying to best address employee and public safety while also trying to keep the mission of the agency moving forward. One of the first things that came to my mind was the upcoming fire season and how quickly sickness can spread through crews and Incident Command Posts on a wildfire. Just about the time I was thinking about that, BLM’s Office of Fire and Aviation was putting out guidelines. Good work, OFA!
The BLM reorganization and dismantling of the Headquarters in Washington, D.C. continues. The transition of directors to Grand Junction has begun with Deputy Director for Operations, Mike Nedd, and Deputy Director for Policy and Programs, William Perry Pendley, alternating between D.C. and Colorado on a biweekly basis, although this has temporarily stopped due to Covid-19 travel restrictions. The GAO released the results of their investigation into the BLM reorganization on March 6, 2020 (GAO-20-397R Bureau of Land Management) finding that the BLM did not fully follow accepted practices for reorganizing. The BLM responded that the GAO basically mischaracterized the effort as a “reorganization” when it is really a “relocation”. Really?!! Call it what they will, when you take an organization and break it apart and scatter it over the Country, that’s a “reorganization”.
A major result of the “relocation” has been the loss of many senior level employees. The PLF has tried to get numbers accounting for employees that are moving and those that have separated from the agency. According to the GAO report, of the 311 positions that were to be relocated to the West, 132 were already vacant when the reorganization was announced in July 2019, leaving 179 positions to relocate. Of the 179 positions, 90 reportedly agreed to move while 81 decided to separate through resignation, retirement, or finding other jobs. At least some of the 90 that agreed to move are still actively looking for other jobs, so it will be sometime this summer before there will be a more accurate accounting of positions. We will keep tabs on the progress of the reorganization and how it is functioning.
In February, Beau and I had the opportunity to sit in on the National Association of Forest Service Retirees annual board of directors meeting in Phoenix. The NAFSR’s board is chaired by former BLM Director, Jim Caswell. This is the third year that PLF has participated in NAFSR’s board meeting and the two organizations are finding that there are many ways we can support each other and work together to make our collective voices heard.
One way that PLF and NAFSR collaborated was on the recent NEPA rule changes proposed by CEQ. This was a natural fit for both organizations with BLM and the Forest Service responsible for the most NEPA documents prepared each year. Both organizations have members with a wealth of experience and knowledge of the NEPA process and have been involved with past efforts to make regulatory changes to this important statute. Both PLF and NAFSR organized teams to review and develop comments on the NEPA proposals and in short time came to agreement on the changes we agreed with and those we thought needed to be modified. A great job by both teams!
At our annual board meeting last September, the Board agreed to look into the feasibility of hiring a full or part time Executive Director. To do this we will need to raise funds. Van Manning is leading the charge on developing a fundraising strategy that will require the involvement of members to make this successful. We have been working with partners to develop a position description for the Executive Director position should PLF decide to hire one. This is very much a work in progress. We’ll keep you informed as this moves forward.
I’ll close with these final words…stay home and stay safe! Oh, and wash your hands!