Ranchers blamed for transfer of BLM veteran

 

A 31-year Bureau of Land Management veteran says the agency is transferring him from Wyoming to Utah because of his by-the-book stand on grazing. Darrel Short, area manager for Wyoming's Kemmerer Resource Area, says the agency kowtowed to rancher pressure in issuing the transfer, and he is challenging the move under the federal law protecting whistleblowers.

"I'll be darned if I am going to be run off just because grazing permittees don't think that they have to abide by the law," he says. Last year Short clashed with agency officials when he was removed as lead negotiator on a plan with ranchers to restore the 500,000-acre Cumberland grazing allotment in southwestern Wyoming (HCN, 2/22/93).

Short says he earned the dislike of ranchers and unnerved other BLM employees by calling attention to violations of environmental laws, including overgrazing near streams, illegal fires and unauthorized construction of roads on public lands. But officials at the state BLM office say the real problem was his method of dealing with people.

"It had nothing to do with the resource. Everyone knows there's a problem with the resource," says Jay Guerin, Wyoming BLM public affairs officer. Guerin cites a 1992 meeting in which he says Short told ranchers that the BLM was "going to put them all out of business." Ranchers and some members of Congress urged the BLM to remove Short, says Guerin. The BLM offered Short the position of chief of ecosystem management in Utah because it would make use of his technical skills, but not put him in contact with the public, says Guerin. Because Short refused the position, he will have to retire from the agency.

As Kemmerer area manager, Short drew praise from state environmentalists and earned Wyoming Wildlife Federation's 1993 Professional of the Year Award. According to federation board member Neil Lesmeister, Short was straightforward but not overly confrontational with ranchers.

"It's only because he was so open with the truth that progress has been made, though still slowly. People are now accepting that the range is overgrazed and mismanaged," Lesmeister says. Both the Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility and the Government Accountability Project are representing Short in his challenge of the BLM transfer.

* Chip Giller, HCN intern

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