Obama picks Nevadan Neil Kornze as next BLM head

 

A native Nevadan is expected to become the next overseer of much of the West’s public lands. Neil Kornze is President Obama’s nominee to head the Bureau of Land Management, which manages 245 million acres, mostly in Western states. Kornze joined the agency in 2011, and has been its principal deputy director since March. He replaced acting director Mike Pool, who stepped in after Bob Abbey retired in May 2012 (see our interview with Abbey).

At 34, Kornze would be one of the youngest agency heads ever, but he has a pretty impressive resumé. Raised in Elko, he's the son of a geologist who discovered major gold deposits near the town (now an open pit mine operated by mining giant Barrick). He graduated from Washington’s Whitman College with a degree in politics (seems he’s got some chops as a journalist too – he and another student shared a prize for Best Feature Story in the college newspaper). He earned a master’s in International Relations at the London School of Economics and Political Science, then went to work for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.

Neil Kornze has been nominated to head the Bureau of Land Management. Photo courtesy Department of Interior.

As a policy adviser with Reid, from 2003 to 2011, Kornze worked on public lands, water, renewable energy, wildlife and mining. Reid is notoriously friendly to the mining industry (see our story “Nevada’s Golden Child”), but Kornze doesn’t appear to have been a mining booster (industry interests complained that he “fought the mining industry’s opposition of the Pine Grove-Esmeralda Wilderness efforts”). He helped put together the 2009 public lands omnibus bill. The bill  designated 2 million acres of wilderness, codified the National Landscape Conservation System, and added 1,000 river-miles to the Wild and Scenic river system, among other things. He also helped reauthorize the Secure Rural Schools program, which provides funding to rural counties that formerly relied on income from timber sales, and the Payment-in-Lieu-of-Taxes program, which compensates states with a lot of federal land for loss of property tax revenue from that land.

At the BLM, as senior advisor, Kornze worked on renewable and conventional energy development, transmission siting, and conservation policy. He was instrumental in the Western Solar Plan, which established 17 solar energy zones on public land, and in approving nearly 50 utility-scale renewable energy projects.

He was also key in developing the BLM's rule for regulating hydraulic fracturing on public lands. Enviros felt the final version was watered down to appease industry, though. Under his watch, the BLM also withdrew public lands from mining claims to make them available for renewable energy development.

nenvwh_ecosanctuary.Par.37539.Image.1.1.1.gif
Neil Kornze (left) at site of proposed Northeast Nevada Wild Horse Eco-Sanctuary. Photo courtesy BLM.

Kornze’s nomination has been greeted with approval from enviro groups, and, predictably, dismay from conservatives and off-roaders. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell sang his praises in a press release:

“Neil has helped implement forward-looking reforms at the BLM to promote energy development in areas of minimal conflict, drive landscape-level planning efforts, and dramatically expand the agency’s use of technology to speed up the process for energy permitting.”

From the League of Conservation Voters:

“Neil Kornze will continue to provide the steady leadership we need at the Bureau of Land Management.  As a westerner, he knows first-hand the importance of careful stewardship of our public lands. He's the right choice for the job, and the Senate should act quickly on his nomination."

Trout Unlimited also approves:

“During his time on Capitol Hill and in recent years at the BLM, Neil has demonstrated a pragmatic, solutions-oriented approach to public lands challenges,” said Trout Unlimited President and CEO Chris Wood. “Neil has the perfect balance of a deep appreciation for the conservation value of public lands, and the role they play in providing goods and services that drive local economies….”

And a former classmate of Kornze's at Whitman, Cameron Scott, offered HCN this take:

I'd say he is an incredibly adept and dedicated individual able to meet the needs of various interest groups and play the political game while still remaining grounded. He is super charismatic. Very inquisitive. I'd share a meal with him anytime, and while sharing that meal we'd have a pretty awesome conversation.

Unlike other recent BLM directors, Kornze doesn’t have decades of natural resource experience. Bob Abbey had worked in various land management agencies for close to 30 years, as had his predecessor, Jim Caswell. Kornze’s boss at Interior, Sally Jewell, didn’t have long-standing public lands experience either when she was tapped for the job six months ago, but her first major conservation policy speech, delivered Nov. 3 at the National Press Club, drew a standing ovation. Kornze’s appointment, if confirmed by the Senate, bodes well for the BLM to continue the more balanced approach it’s been striving for, putting greater emphasis on conservation while continuing to allow reasonable oil and gas development.

Jodi Peterson is the managing editor of High Country News.

High Country News Classifieds
  • 10 ACRES OF NEW MEXICO HIGH DESERT
    10 Acres of undeveloped high desert land in central NM, about 45 minutes from downtown Albuquerque. Mixed cedar and piñon pine cover. Some dirt roadways...
  • WATERSHED RESTORATION DIRECTOR
    $58k-$70k + benefits to oversee watershed restoration projects that fulfill our strategic goals across urban and rural areas within the bi-national Santa Cruz and San...
  • CUSTOMER SERVICE ASSISTANT - (PART-TIME)
    High Country News, an award-winning media organization covering the communities and environment of the Western United States, seeks a part-time Customer Service Assistant, based at...
  • OPERATIONS DIRECTOR
    We are a Santa Fe-based nonprofit that builds resilience on arid working lands. We foster ecological, economic, and social health through education, innovation, and collaboration....
  • COMMUNITY ORGANIZER
    Come work alongside everyday Montanans to project our clean air, water, and build thriving communities! Competitive salary, health insurance, pension, generous vacation time and sabbatical....
  • CAMPAIGN MANAGER
    Oregon Natural Desert Association (ONDA), a nonprofit conservation organization dedicated to protecting, defending and restoring Oregon's high desert, seeks a Campaign Manager to works as...
  • HECHO DEPUTY DIRECTOR
    Hispanics Enjoying Camping, Hunting, and the Outdoors (HECHO) was created in 2013 to help fulfill our duty to conserve and protect our public lands for...
  • REGIONAL REPRESENTATIVE, COLUMBIA CASCADES
    The Regional Representative serves as PCTA's primary staff on the ground along the trail working closely with staff, volunteers, and nonprofit and agency partners. This...
  • FINANCE AND OPERATIONS DIRECTOR
    The Montana Land Reliance (MLR) seeks a full-time Finance and Operations Director to manage the internal functions of MLR and its nonprofit affiliates. Key areas...
  • DIRECTOR OF CONSERVATION
    The Nature Conservancy is recruiting for a Director of Conservation. Provides strategic leadership and support for all of the Conservancy's conservation work in Arizona. The...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    The Amargosa Conservancy (AC), a conservation nonprofit dedicated to standing up for water and biodiversity in the Death Valley region, seeks an executive director to...
  • BIG BASIN SENIOR PROJECT PLANNER - CLIMATE ADAPTATION & RESILIENCE
    Parks California Big Basin Senior Project Planner - Climate Adaptation & Resilience ORGANIZATION BACKGROUND Parks California is a new organization working to ensure that our...
  • SCIENCE PROJECT MANAGER
    About Long Live the Kings (LLTK) Our mission is to restore wild salmon and steelhead and support sustainable fishing in the Pacific Northwest. Since 1986,...
  • NEW BOOK BY AWARD-WINNING WILDLIFE BIOLOGIST, BRUCE SMITH
    In a perilous place at the roof of the world, an orphaned mountain goat is rescued from certain death by a mysterious raven.This middle-grade novel,...
  • MOUNTAIN LOTS FOR SALE
    Multiple lots in gated community only 5 miles from Great Sand Dunes National Park. Seasonal flowing streams. Year round road maintenance.
  • RURAL ACREAGE OUTSIDE SILVER CITY, NM
    Country living just minutes from town! 20 acres with great views makes a perfect spot for your custom home. Nice oaks and juniper. Cassie Carver,...
  • A FIVE STAR FOREST SETTING WITH SECLUSION AND SEPARATENESS
    This home is for a discerning buyer in search of a forest setting of premier seclusion & separateness. Surrounded on all sides by USFS land...
  • CARPENTER WANTED
    CARPENTER WANTED. Come to Ketchikan and check out the Rainforest on the coast, HIke the shorelines, hug the big trees, watch deer in the muskeg...
  • CAUCASIAN OVCHARKA PUPPIES
    Strong loyal companions. Ready to protect your family and property. Proven against wolves and grizzlies. Imported bloodlines. Well socialized.
  • ENVIRONMENTAL GEOPHYSICS
    "More Data, Less Digging" Find groundwater and reduce excavation costs!