by Ed Shepard
Have you gotten your vaccination yet? A year ago, we were washing our hands a lot and staying home. In two weeks we’d “flatten the curve” and be able to start getting back to normal, we were told. Well, that didn’t work out quite as we planned. But progress is being made and I hope this vaccination and herd immunity thing works. One thing I have been reminded of through this ordeal is that science is not perfect, especially with something like a new virus, and there is a need to learn and adapt as we move along. Kind of like land management.
I want to start off by welcoming our new Executive Director, Courtney Lyons-Garcia. Courtney comes to us with over twenty years of nonprofit public land experience. For the past 13 years she has been the Executive Director for the Big Bend Conservancy in Texas. We hired her to help expand PLF’s capacity to advocate for the public lands. She has a lot of experience, energy, and fresh ideas that will serve us well. In the few short weeks that Courtney has been onboard she has provided us with insight on how we can do our work more efficiently and effectively. Welcome to the PLF, Courtney!
We would also like to welcome the Department of the Interior’s new Secretary, Deb Haaland.
Secretary Haaland was confirmed by the Senate and sworn in as the 54th Secretary on March 18. The Secretary has just started, and we are all waiting for announcements of who will lead BLM and who will serve as the Assistant Secretary. Some familiar names from past administrations are coming onboard in the Department and serving in leadership roles until permanent leaders are nominated and confirmed. Laura Daniel-Davis has been appointed as the Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Land and Minerals Management (ASLM) and Nada Culver is the newly appointed BLM Deputy Director for Policy and Programs. Nada comes to BLM from a long career with conservation organizations, most recently the National Audubon Society and Laura Daniel-Davis most recently worked for the National Wildlife Federation and also served as Chief of Staff for Secretaries Salazar and Jewell. The Board has been in contact with both of these leaders, and we look forward to a productive relationship.
The Board of Directors recently held a Zoom call with both of the BLM Deputy Directors, Nada Culver and Mike Nedd. Joining them on the call were BLM Chief-of-Staff Mark Lawyer, Counselor Danna Jackson, and Senior Advisor Alexx Diera. Janea Scott from the Assistant Secretary’s office also joined the call. This was primarily an introductory call where information was shared on the BLM priorities under the new Administration and how PLF may be able to help provide support. We hope to hold similar calls in the future, reestablishing the quarterly calls the PLF had with BLM in the past.
One of the first orders of business that we hope Secretary Haaland will address is to nominate a permanent BLM Director. There has not been a permanent Director in over four years. It is time for permanent leadership to address the many land management issues facing the Bureau, and the organizational issues and “brain drain” resulting from the BLM reorganization and relocation. On behalf of the PLF, I have sent a letter to the Secretary asking her to work with the White House to nominate a BLM Director that meets the guidance found in section 301(a) of FLPMA requiring that “The Director of the Bureau shall have a broad background and substantial experience in public land and natural resource management.”
Spring is a good time to do some cleaning. As we prepared for the Administration transition, we looked at PLF’s Position Statements and found that is an area in which we need to do a little cleaning. Many of the papers are out of date and some address issues that are no longer pertinent. I have asked Don Simpson to lead an effort to see that these papers are up to date and reflect the concerns of today. I know that Don has reached out to many of you for your assistance.
I’d like to close out this report with something that I always enjoyed doing in BLM and with PLF, recognizing the many good people that contribute so much to the organization and help make us successful. Normally we recognize internal PLF award recipients at the annual meeting, but it was not possible last year because of Covid. So, we did the next best thing and made a hybrid, virtual, and CDC-safe award presentation to our Volunteer of the Year. With the help of PLF member John Fend, Idaho BLM State Director John Ruhs and Associate State Director Peter Ditton, and me via Zoom, we presented this award to Jenna Whitlock. Jenna contributed significant time and energy over the past few years to help the PLF react to the BLM reorganization and to track the many vacancies that resulted. For this and the many other contributions Jenna has made, the Board of Directors recognized her with this award. Congratulations, Jenna!