The following comments were posted at HCN.org in response to Jodi Peterson's Oct. 16 blog "BLM looks for balance," which concerned the recent wave of criticism the agency has received for its outsized focus on fossil fuel extraction.
I retired after almost 35 years in BLM field offices. I believe the concept of public lands was one of the best ideas this republic ever had, and I remain dedicated to the mission of the BLM and the wonderful resources under its care. The theory is great; the practice, not so much. The agency suffers from some managers who are so focused on production that they fail to see the actual mission. Take the assistant state director for minerals in Utah, who made this statement: "It is not BLM's job to protect resources, it is our job to lease these lands for oil and gas." Or district managers who publicly say: "My job here is to produce hydrocarbons." We once had our district manager attend an all-employee meeting and berate the group because over one-third of our area was found to have wilderness characteristics. Had we been doing our jobs, we would have developed the area so that few acres would qualify.
A newer trend is to adopt "ignorance is bliss" as a mission statement. Some managers do not want to be informed by their staff as to the actual situation on the ground. A colleague who is still in the agency was recently admonished not to report things he found in the field, like peregrine nests and archaeological sites. The manager would rather not know and not have to deal with the existence of these resources. Staff resource specialists are not used as experts; their role, apparently, is to justify the arbitrary decisions made by their bosses, who are trying to appease an industry or county commission instead of caring for the public trust. Once, a state director told me and other staffers that one of the objectives of the land-use plan we were writing was to "make the counties happy."
The BLM will have arrived when it has managers that are just as proud of the wild landscapes, miles of wild rivers and cultural resources that they manage as they are of the number of drilling permits issued or the number of cows allowed to graze. Unfortunately, wildlife, wildlands and archaeological treasures are too often viewed as impediments to getting the "real job" done -- which is kind of like saying the Coliseum and Vatican are impediments to urban development in Rome. There are some good managers to be found in BLM -- just not enough and not always in the right place.
The same applies to BLM's 19-million-acre giveaway to large solar industries in California, Arizona, Nevada, Utah, New Mexico and Colorado. Massive, remote, centralized solar and wind power plants are decimating desert ecosystems. Worse yet, many mainstream environmental groups support this move while ignoring or downplaying the solar generation potential of the vast urban environment already devoted to meeting human needs.