The BLM: New faces and new attitudes

  • Elaine Zielinski, in the Oregon/Washington office

  • Maitland Sharpe, assistant director, Resource Assessment and Plannin

    arry Marshall
  • Gil Lucero, in the New Mexico office

 

A new generation has ascended to top leadership posts at the Bureau of Land Management.

In the last eight months, acting BLM Director Mike Dombeck has filled 17 key positions, appointing three assistant directors, eight state directors and six associate state directors. Six appointees are women, two are minorities, and two have never before worked in the Interior Department. Several of the appointees leapfrogged over senior employees to reach their new posts.

Bureau staffers say the appointments - all but three of which have passed final procedural hurdles - represent more than a change of faces. They say the turnover signifies a change in bureau philosophy.

"To paraphrase (Energy Secretary) Hazel O'Leary, these new state directors are not your father's BLM. It's not the Bureau of Livestock and Mining any more," says Johanna Wald, senior attorney at the Natural Resources Defense Council.

Steve Richardson, BLM assistant director for external affairs, says the new leaders were chosen to manage ecosystems rather than make isolated decisions about activities such as mining and grazing. Past directors, he says, often made such decisions without an overall concern for the environment. The recent round of appointments occurred as many long-entrenched state directors took advantage of retirement packages offered by the Clinton administration.

Some environmentalists say the change is dramatic.

"It used to be you had to be a head range person with the agency to get a stab at a state director position," says Cathy Carlson, legislative representative for the National Wildlife Federation. "You had to have strong ties to the livestock industry."

An especially pleasant surprise, Carlson says, is the appointment of Maitland Sharpe as assistant director for resource assessment and planning. Sharpe has been with the Izaak Walton League of America for 22 years, serving as the group's executive director for the last two years. Sharpe will be one of five assistant directors at the BLM.

Three of the eight new state directors are women; only one other woman has ever served as a state director. In Idaho and Nevada, women will fill the top two leadership slots.

Carlson says the newly appointed women are particularly grounded in conservation. New Idaho State Director Martha Hahn, current associate state director in Colorado, spent three years working for the Grand Canyon Trust in between intervals at the BLM. New Nevada State Director Ann Morgan came from the Washington State Department of Natural Resources, where she managed its aquatic lands.

"I was attracted to this particular administration and agency because I think their agenda is the right one," says Morgan. "I'm interested in taking a holistic look at resources and in ecosystem management."

The appointees also have strong interpersonal skills, which former BLM leaders often lacked, says Carlson. "The agency has made a real effort to move people with clear dynamism instead of moving up people who have just survived in their jobs for 30 years." In particular, she points to Alan Pierson, who will jump from Rawlins District Manager, Wyo., to state director.

As part of the Clinton administration's attempt to reinvent government, Richardson says, the BLM will reduce middle-level management, consolidate and quicken the decision-making process, and increase accountability throughout the agency. By 1999 the BLM plans to employ 10 percent fewer workers than in 1992. BLM offices will lose 25 percent of their employees in Washington, D.C., Richardson says, while field offices around the country will gain workers. State offices will enjoy freedom to set their own agendas, and fewer national administrators will peer over the shoulders of state directors, he says. Some critics of the BLM warn that such freedom is a problem in the agency: State offices are run as the private fiefdoms of state directors in the pocket of the West's extractive industries (HCN, 5/16/94). But Richardson says the broad goal of ecosystem management will help unify agency activities.

Attorney Wald agrees the agency needs streamlining. "But if all it's going to do is produce more bad decisions faster, I don't want it," she says. "If the BLM is interested in decisions that are going to be better for the resources and better for the people who care about them, that's progress."

Carlson of the National Wildlife Federation says the future of the agency will be determined by the loyalties of the new state directors: "They're going to be there a long time. If history repeats itself, they'll weather political changes (the comings and goings of administrations) fairly well."

"I think the directors will be a real legacy the administration can point to," concludes Wald. "At least I hope so."

Chip Giller, HCN intern

High Country News Classifieds
  • EXECUTIVE ADMINISTRATIVE ASSISTANT
    Job Announcement: Executive Administrative Assistant (Part-Time) Announcement date: October 27, 2021 Applications will be reviewed on an ongoing basis and first review will begin: November...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Job purpose The Executive Director is a proven leader with demonstrated and sustained experience managing people, budgets, fundraising, and contract compliance who guides a well-established...
  • COMMUNICATIONS ASSOCIATE
    The Greater Yellowstone Coalition seeks a Communications Associate to support the advancement of GYC's mission by working closely with the Communications Coordinator and program staff...
  • MONTANA DIRECTOR OF DEVELOPMENT
    YOUR POSITION WITH TNC The Director of Development (DoD) is responsible for directing all aspects of one or more development functions, which will secure significant...
  • DEVELOPMENT AND OPERATIONS COORDINATOR
    Development & Operations Coordinator Terms: 1.0 FTE (full-time), Salary DOE ($45,000 - $55,000) Benefits: Paid Time Off (12-24 days/year depending on tenure), Paid Holidays (10/year),...
  • GUIDE TO WESTERN NATIONAL MONUMENTS
    NEW BOOK showcases 70 national monuments across the western United States. Use "Guide10" for 10% off at cmcpress.org
  • CARBON RANCH PLANNER
    The Quivira Coalition (www.quiviracoaltion.org) is a Santa Fe-based nonprofit that builds resilience on arid working lands. We foster ecological, economic, and social health through education,...
  • EDUCATION AND OUTREACH DIRECTOR
    Education and Outreach Program Director The Quivira Coalition (www.quiviracoaltion.org) is a Santa Fe-based nonprofit that builds resilience on arid working lands. We foster ecological, economic,...
  • WESTERN DIVISION DIRECTOR OF FIELD PROGRAMS
    DEADLINE TO APPLY: October 29, 2021 LOCATION FLEXIBLE (WESTERN HUB CITY PREFERRED) Overview The Land Trust Alliance is the voice of the land trust community....
  • COMMUNICATIONS AND OUTREACH ASSOCIATE
    Communications and Outreach Associate Position Opening: www.westernlaw.org/communications-outreach-associate ************************************************* Location: Western U.S., ideally in one of WELC's existing office locations (Santa Fe or Taos, NM, Helena,...
  • FREELANCE GRAPHIC DESIGNER & PROJECT COORDINATOR (REMOTE)
    High Country News (HCN) is seeking a contract Graphic Designer & Project Coordinator to design promotional, marketing and fund-raising assets and campaigns, and project-manage them...
  • FILM AND DIGITAL MEDIA: ASSISTANT PROFESSOR OF INDIGENOUS MEDIA, CULTURAL SOVEREIGNTY AND DECOLONIZATION (INITIAL REVIEW 12.1.21)
    Film and Digital Media: Assistant Professor of Indigenous Media, Cultural Sovereignty and Decolonization (Initial Review 12.1.21) Position overview Position title: Assistant Professor - tenure-track Salary...
  • REAL ESTATE SPECIALIST
    To learn more about this position and to apply please go to the following URL.
  • ENVIRONMENTAL GEOPHYSICS
    "More Data, Less Digging" Find groundwater and reduce excavation costs!
  • RARE CHIRICAHUA RIPARIAN LAND FOR SALE
    40 acres: 110 miles from Tucson: native trees, grasses: birder's heaven::dark sky/ borders state lease & National forest/5100 ft/13-16 per annum rain
  • CENTRAL PARK CULTURAL RESOURCE SPECIALIST
    Agency: Oregon Parks and Recreation Department Salary Range: $5,203 - $7,996 Position Title: Central Park Cultural Resource Specialist Do you have a background in Archaeology...
  • STAFF ATTORNEY
    Come live and work in one of the most beautiful places in the world! As our Staff Attorney you will play a key role in...
  • ARIZONA GRAZING CLEARINGHOUSE
    Dedicated to preventing the ecological degradation caused by livestock grazing on Arizona's public lands, and exposing the government subsidies that support it.
  • OPERATIONS MANAGER
    Position Summary: Friends of the Inyo (friendsoftheinyo.org) is seeking a new Operations Manager. The Operations Manager position is a full-time permanent position that reports directly...
  • WATER RIGHTS BUREAU CHIEF
    Water Rights Bureau Chief, State of Montana, DNRC, Water Resources Division, Helena, MT Working to support and implement the Department's mission to help ensure that...