by Ed Shepard
COVID 2020 – Day Whatever. We certainly do live in interesting times. Who would have thought back in January, as we were beginning a new year and a new decade, we’d be spending a lot of the year staying at home and interacting with family, friends, and colleagues through Zoom calls? I had never even heard of Zoom until March and now it’s become the “New Normal”. It seems that I’m on a Zoom meeting at least once a week these days. I have to admit, it does work pretty well but, in my mind, it will never replace face-to-face meetings. For now, and maybe well into the future it will be a way of life and how we will conduct our lives, including how we will conduct our Annual Meeting this year (see more on the Annual Meeting in this edition of the Monitor).
As this changes the way PLF works, it is having a big impact on BLM and other agencies. Most of the offices remain closed, for the most part, with some opening just to cover field operations. Everyone is working to adopt and keep the agency running, and from what I’m hearing, doing well. I have had the opportunity to visit with a couple of BLM employees and discussed how business was working. One employee, a supervisor, told me that employees working from home (now known as WFH) was working far better than he thought it would. He felt that productivity was maybe a little better than in the office, because of fewer interruptions. He said that deadlines were being met and there have been few problems with employees being available. Another employee told me that, while WFH has some benefits, she misses her colleagues. I have heard mixed reviews from some of the stakeholders that work with BLM as to how well this is actually working. In the usual BLM way, employees will adapt to get the job done.
As the Covid-19 restrictions begin to ease and Government offices begin to reopen, my guess is that some of the practices that have evolved through the closures will become part of the new way of office life. The offices that we remember will likely never be the same and maybe that’s a good thing.
The fire season is beginning to pick up and could be a bad one according to NIFC projections. The fire community always has its normal challenges balancing response during severe fires seasons, now they have the added complications of balancing fire response with Covid-19 safety measures. I have talked with some of the interagency fire community leaders and they have developed procedures to balance responding to fires while being cognizant of the additional safety measures needed to protect fire fighters. They are also aware of the concerns of rural communities, with very limited health care, being subjected to large concentrations of firefighters coming in from all over the country and possibly bringing the virus with them. All this will assure that the state and federal wildfire agencies will have their hands full.
On a more cheerful note, S.3422, the Great American Outdoors Act passed overwhelmingly in the Senate on June 17 and, possibly by the time you get this edition of the Monitor will have passed the House and been sent to the President. This Bill finally makes the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) permanent and fully funds it at $900 million. It also authorizes funds to address the maintenance backlog that has grown on public lands over the last several decades. Despite the bipartisan support for the Bill in the Senate, it is not without controversy. Many legislators and some stakeholders are weary of adding excessive acreage to the Federal land holdings. I’m sure this law will continue to raise debate as it is implemented in the next several years.
In other important news, the White House on June 26 announced the intent to nominate William Perry Pendley as the Director of the BLM. The nomination of Pendley who has been Acting Director since July 2019, was unexpected and raises serious concerns over the future management of the public lands. The PLF believes that it is extremely important that the Director of the BLM support the mission of BLM under the Federal Land Policy and Management Act and have the skills and competencies in natural resource management to lead the agency through the complicated decisions that he or she will be required to make. We will communicate our concerns with Congress during the nomination process.
I will close by wishing you all a safe and healthy summer. As Covid restrictions are gradually (or maybe not so gradually) lifted, I hope that you are able to at least partially fulfill you summer vacation plans. Just stay safe!