What’s new with Ron Huntsinger, the BLM National Science Coordinator?

Readers of this blog might be interested to know what the Bureau of Land Management’s National Science Coordinator is up to these days. Mr. Ron Huntsinger has joined the CESU COUNCIL. The CESU Network is coordinated and provided support by the CESU Council. That stands for Cooperative Ecosystems Studies Units. “The Council includes representatives of participating Federal agencies operating under a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) for the CESU Network. A CESU Council Coordinator is elected by the members.”

US Dept. of Interior:

Ron Huntsinger
National Science Coordinator
Bureau of Land Management
1620 L Street , Room 1050
Washington , DC 20036
Phone: (202) 452-5177
Fax: (202) 452-5112
Email: Ron_Huntsinger@blm.gov

The Public Lands Monitor for Fall, 2009 also has a presentation by Ron Huntsinger, National Science Coordinator, BLM Headquarters Office, Washington, D.C. “BLM Adaptations to Changes in Climate.”

Click for Ron Huntsinger’s PowerPoint presentation.

Secretary Salazar has issued a Secretarial Order on climate change and renewable energy. Four work groups have been formed to develop a supplemental strategy for the BLM. It is working on adaptive management guidance to complement the climate change strategy for both the DOI and BLM. It is developing a rapid assessment process at the eco-regional scale to allow for identification of areas suitable for renewable resource development. A national monitoring network and regionalized science support capability is being proposed in DOI, in which BLM will participate. Under the new BLM science strategy, it is developing a technology transfer process to assure that best management practices, adaptive management strategies, decision support tools, and research results are incorporated in BLM training and management programs, as well as being made available to other users.

Also at that meeting was Mike Pool, BLM Deputy Director for Operations, Washington, D.C., who described some of the major public land initiatives BLM is dealing with:

BLM is focused on renewable energy development. Solar and wind energy facilities have the potential for large scale displacement of other public land values. A Solar Programmatic EIS is being prepared to help BLM decide how to implement renewable energy programs. At the same time, BLM is reviewing how it manages conventional energy resource goals.

The National Landscape Conservation System (NLCS) fits well with the Department’s landscape protection initiative. The NLCS created a balance and gives strength to BLM and the agency’s array of management programs. There will be emphasis on identifying and protecting cultural and historic resources. Friends groups are being developed that are building new coalitions, partnerships, and diplomats for the BLM.

The BLM’s Resource Management Plans (RMP) are one of the foundations of the BLM. These “masterful documents” are rich with information, and are good temporary blueprints of what BLM needs to do to manage for today’s uses of the public lands. The RMPs are continually being amended to meet changing needs. Local governments and local publics compliment the BLM in saying that nobody works with them better than the BLM. There is a culture in the BLM that knows how to deal with the public on difficult issues, and a process that leads to good, sound decisions.

The BLM will continue to manage a high level of economic resources and recreation. Challenging lawsuits over sage grouse, desert tortoise and other Threatened and Endangered Species are now recognized as part of the decision making process and BLM is improving its products for dealing with these issues.

Mike Pool presented retiring PLF President George Lea with a bronze buffalo statue with thanks for George’s service and dedication to the Public Lands Foundation, and he thanked the PLF for being a great supporter of the BLM.

DR. Huntsinger (no, he didn’t actually get a Ph.D.) also has been presenting on Climate Change at conferences such as the Southwest Region Fish and Wildlife Service Workshop. It probably looks better for him to appear to have an advanced degree, but all he has a BS.

The “bad science of the Bush administration” seems to be perpetuating itself under the Obama administration.

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Sarah Christie, environmental expert, forced to resign from Planning Commission

A story is playing out once again that will end with the removal of a woman of intelligence, vigor, dedication and vision from the Carrizo. It is not the work of BLM this time, but apparently being too good at one’s job is dangerous for women in cattle/oil’n’gas/and solar energy country. “Headstrong” is a bad quality in women working for the environment, and a lot of people like to see these women put in their place. (KT)

So long, Sarah
Supervisor Jim Patterson intends to ax Planning Commission Chairwoman Sarah Christie.
BY COLIN RIGLEY

AXED
Sarah Christie is expected to resign from the SLO County Planning Commission at the request of Supervisor Jim Patterson, who appointed her five years ago.

Sarah Christie is the type of public official who can rip you to shreds and hold a quizzical look that says, “How did you not see this coming?”

She’s a brutally incisive decision maker who can steer a meeting, sway a vote, and shift opposing political views, using keen reasoning and unparalleled knowledge of local laws.

Maybe it’s because of those very qualities that Christie has become one of the most divisive members of SLO County government. And maybe they account for why, after five years, she’s being forced out of office.

Christie is expected to resign from the SLO County Planning Commission during the Dec. 17 meeting. She’s been perceived by some critics as an extreme, left-biased roadblock and by supporters as one of the best planning commissioners in memory. When she steps down—barring a change of heart by Supervisor Jim Patterson, who appointed her—she may allude to spending time with her family or other such political clichés. Whatever her official explanation may be, Christie is not stepping down by choice.

Throughout her tenure, Christie has been at the forefront in the pitched battles between SLO County’s environmentalists on the left and developers on the right. Despite vigorous campaigns by pro-growth agitators to unseat her, her position has been secure. But somewhere along the line very recently, Patterson turned against her.

About 15 people met with Patterson on Dec. 7 to change his mind: As far as anyone can tell, they failed.

Many political figures self-destruct amid scandals and corruption charges; Christie may meet her demise for no reason other than she’s an expert. “I just think it’s really sad for Sarah personally … just because she’s so smart,” one supporter said. “Just because we have an intelligent woman. And that’s a bad thing?”

Christie is an undeniable pain in the ass to any developer who relies on smooth public relations consultants and slick PowerPoints. Pat Veesart, a former District 3 planning commissioner, thinks “it’s always been an unlevel playing field” in the world of county development. Christie, he believes, provided a counterbalance for the public, who is usually shortchanged compared to developers with deep coffers and ready access to decision makers.

Ultimately, Christie is just one vote on the commission, a government body that can be easily overridden by the Board of Supervisors. And the Planning Commission rarely gains much public attention, aside from a small circle of activists and wonks. But Christie’s departure would signify much more than just the loss of a mid-level decision maker who is virtually a volunteer (planning commissioners make $150 per meeting); it would be a sign the county’s political infrastructure is vulnerable to pressure from private interests.

“I think the message is going to be loud and clear among those circles,” Veesart said.

What’s odd is not that Christie might be forced out; what’s odd is the timing. She’s served for five years as Patterson’s appointee and has come under fire before. Calls for her blood peaked months ago but have faded.

Why now?

By most accounts, her position on the county’s future energy policy was the final straw; a position that poses a financial threat to large solar projects—projects involving people with ties to certain county officials.

“I think it’s the solar stuff, I do,” said Robin Bell, of the Carrisa Alliance for Responsible Energy.

Two large solar electric projects have been proposed for construction in the Carrizo Plains, which is in Patterson’s district. There were originally three projects, but after several sales and company buyouts, SunPower and First Solar stand as the only applicants. Both companies have a lot riding on those projects, which came about after PG&E brokered a deal to add 800 megawatts of power to its grid. State law requires utility companies to increase supplies of renewable energy.

The latest Wedbush research report for stock investors, published Dec. 4, gave both solar companies neutral ratings. The report warns that expected lawsuits and delays in the approval process could significantly extend company timelines to construction. According to the Wedbush analysis, SunPower’s share price anticipated for the next 12 months is scaled back from $29 to $21.

And the escalating global market, particularly because of Chinese solar manufacturers, means First Solar and SunPower must build a lot of solar panels to stay competitive, explained Wedbush solar analyst Christine Hersey.

“Investors just need to realize it’s a hell of a lot more complicated than maybe they were previously thinking,” Hersey said, adding that the Carrizo projects are the largest U.S. projects ever proposed by either company.

Although the projects are the vanguard of a state and national push for green energy, they have come under intense scrutiny because of potential impacts to wildlife. Neither project has yet moved to the county’s approval process—both are still drafting environmental review documents.

In June 2009, a deliberative process began to unfold that potentially could undercut such large projects as the ones proposed in the Carrizo, and it originated in the Planning Commission.

Simultaneously, some critics were calling for Christie’s resignation as she and the other commissioners were redrafting the county’s General Plan. Over multiple meetings, the commissioners have been updating policies for the Conservation and Open Space Element of the plan. Some of the policy reforms focus on energy: namely what kind, where should power plants be built, and should there be large power plants or should we instead favor solar panels on rooftops? Should energy companies be required to avoid environmental impacts or merely offset them?

Such were the questions the commissioners pondered during the course of the early meetings. It was a rough start, but as the commissioners gained momentum in their review, Christie became the focal point in the most contested debates about the new energy policies. Indeed, Christie provided the groundwork for the current version of policies with a draft she wrote based on public comments—if only because no one else brought language to the table. Though the commissioners continued to work from Christie’s draft, she personally caught so much flak she felt obligated to explain what she had provided. “They’re not necessarily my edits,” Christie said on July 6. “They’re a reflection of the public’s input.”

But what the public wanted and what some commissioners were willing to concede were mostly disparate. Some policy language gave preference to distributed power sources—solar panels on rooftops—instead of large local industrial solar plants. Other bits of wording went a bit beyond historical county guidelines by saying that in SLO County, new projects should avoid environmental impacts. Historically, commissioners and some county planners argued, projects are only expected to mitigate impacts. But asking developers to avoid impacts may preclude some projects from passing county standards.

“My guess is four of us are a little more on the side of accepting that there may be some trade-offs,” Commissioner Anne Wyatt said. In other words, the policies Christie proposed went too far.

Commissioner Carlyn Christianson also warned the policies might restrict projects from moving through the county’s approval process. But Christie countered, laughing as though she was going crazy, “So nothing in this document is going to prohibit anything from happening. All this document is going to do is to lay out a general path. These are general guidelines.”

She continued, “And I’m getting a little bit of a sense that we’re trying to craft this document to meet the needs of some specific applicants, which I think is completely inappropriate.”

By July 23, representatives from the solar companies were attending the meetings in person and submitting letters on the record urging the county to pull back on the restrictions.

As the commissioners wrapped up the energy element, they tentatively approved the language, but left it on uncertain ground. Surprisingly, Christianson and Wyatt, who are both part of the Democratic 3-2 majority, actually apologized as they closed the books on the energy element.

“I do not feel that some of the decisions made by the commission are things I do agree with, but I do think the Board of Supervisors will have a chance to review some of those decisions made by the commission,” Christianson said.

On Dec. 17, Christie and the rest of the commission are scheduled to finalize the new General Plan elements. Some commissioners hinted they want to revise the earlier language and gut the suggestions Christie included.

It is an undeniably tense issue for the commission, so significant that solar representatives have been drawn into the debate before their projects go up for public review.

“There’s been quite a bit of discussion about Sarah’s role as chairman of the Planning Commission and her extensive involvement in revising the open space element of the county’s General Plan,” said Chris Crotty of Crotty Consulting in San Diego.

NOT WORTH IT ANYMORE
Supervisor Jim Patterson long withstood pressure to remove Planning Commissioner Sarah Christie, but something or someone recently changed his mind.
PHOTO BY STEVE E. MILLER
Crotty’s name might sound familiar for two reasons. First, he has a long history as a political consultant in SLO County, having guided the election campaigns of Supervisors Patterson, Adam Hill, and Bruce Gibson. And second, SunPower recently hired Crotty as a consultant.

“Let me put it this way,” Crotty said. “The document that the planning commission utilized to make those changes was a document that was authored by Sarah Christie.”

It’s not only that Crotty is being paid to represent a company trying to build in SLO County and is buddies with the people who will make the decision, or that Christie may have upset the balance on a project in Patterson’s district. If you ask Bell or Veesart why they think Christie’s job is on the line, it’s because she irked the wrong people.

When it comes to the large-scale solar projects, Bell said, “It was apparent that Sarah was going in one direction and Jim was going in the other.”

But after tidal waves of pressure for Patterson to remove Christie, which she had always survived, would the solar companies somehow be able to drown her out? “You can bet that it’s a factor in this,” Veesart said. “You can bank it.”

Crotty responded that no one from SunPower asked that she be removed.

Damage control

Neither Christie nor Patterson would confirm she’s slated to retire from her position, though Patterson told New Times on Dec. 14 he would have a statement later during the week. Perhaps a wave of support for Christie would sway Patterson’s decision, though many say they worry it’s unlikely things will change.

According to several of Christie’s supporters, who asked not to have their names disclosed because a decision has not been made official or public, Christie will be replaced during the first meeting next year. One of her supporters, referring to criticism levied against Christie throughout her five years in the position, said, “I think that it’s just been this drum beat. I figure that it’s gotten harder and harder for the supervisor to ignore.”

Her worried supporters have lobbied Patterson. But Patterson insisted a recent meeting with several of them had nothing to do with Christie and anything about her being kicked out was merely gossip.

One person who attended that meeting told New Times “it was just weird.” The group urged Patterson to change his mind while he sat, listened, jotted a few notes, but didn’t indicate what he would do.

“What prompted him to even think about hanging her?” the attendee wondered.

For now, the message is being tightly controlled. One potential replacement could be Patterson’s appointee to the Water Resources Advisory Committee, Dan O’Grady, who was nervous to comment on the matter and a bit cryptic about whether he had been pegged for the job.

“I need to just refer you to Jim about any questions about his appointments,” O’Grady said dryly. “I don’t think that would be appropriate for me to [comment].”

O’Grady didn’t return a follow-up call.

Andy Caldwell, who’s a Santa Maria talk show host and executive director of the Coalition of Labor, Agriculture and Business, has become one of Christie’s biggest, or certainly one of the loudest, critics. On July 14, Caldwell publicly called for Christie to be removed from the commission. He asked the Board of Supervisors directly and repeated his opinion in a commentary he contributed to New Times (“Remove Sarah Christie from the planning commission,” July 23).

Asked about Christie, Caldwell was thrilled she might be on the way out.

“But I think what’s occurring right now is what I would refer to as an echo,” Caldwell said, meaning the blasts from himself and others were reverberating from the opposing political spectrum. “And that is the truth about Sarah Christie is a lot of the lefties don’t even like her because she doesn’t listen to them.”

He went on: “I think ultimately this is going to come back to Patterson and [Supervisor Bruce] Gibson where it rightly belongs because they’re not reining her in. … Sarah Christie’s days are numbered.”

Christie has never pretended she’s trying to win friends. Her reputation and tone on the commission is usually hard-edged and sometimes stubborn. After the 2008 election—which switched the Board of Supervisors from a Republican to a Democratic majority, which was reflected by the commission—Christie appeared to mellow a bit. No longer on the defensive as far as voting, her attitude tempered from boiling to a quiet simmer. By reputation, Christie has been a strong voice on the commission for smart growth and environmental stewardship—a voice that has likely won her as many fans as it’s created enemies.

“Sarah has shown more people skills than she had previously,” said Jerry Bunin of the Homebuilders Association of the Central Coast. “But I wouldn’t call her a fair and balanced commissioner. She’s not objective unless the housing is overwhelmingly affordable and therefore difficult to make financial sense to build.”

Patterson was first elected in 2004—he was re-elected in 2008—beating out contender Mike Ryan. Christie was integral in the first campaign and was appointed to be his planning commissioner. She held the office through his re-election last year. She’s also the legislative director for the California Coastal Commission, and has a long résumé of community and environmental activism, starting as a journalist and local government employee.

In 2009, as part of a regular rotation, Christie landed the commission chairmanship, which seemed to throw a fresh coat of paint on the target on her back. Earlier this year, the bloodlust from Christie’s detractors spiked after the release of a 2008 grand jury report. Though Christie wasn’t named, the grand jury reported that she may have overstepped her bounds when she contacted the state Department of Fish and Game about a sand and gravel mining operation proposed in Paso Robles. But the grand jury recommended no punishment, nor in fact any actual wrongdoing, stating instead that planning commissioners should have more training.

If indeed Christie is forced out, it would be a huge loss, several supporters told New Times.

SLO Councilwoman Jan Marx said Christie is “very thorough, very bright, and she knows a lot. Sometimes that’s threatening to people.”

“She is magnificent,” Veesart said. “There’s no other way to describe her. … She’s leagues above everybody else in county politics.”

If Christie is forced out, her absence will resonate far beyond the Planning Commission. As one supporter said, “I think this is getting very political and I am sorely disappointed in Jim Patterson.”

Staff Writer Colin Rigley can be reached at crigley@newtimesslo.com.

Christie says she was betrayed
By Bob Cuddy | bcuddy@thetribunenews.com

Former Planning Commissioner Sarah Christie says the man who appointed her, Supervisor Jim Patterson, betrayed her in “a muscular act of political disloyalty” and has created a rift in the North County environmental movement.

Christie resigned Thursday under pressure from Patterson, who asked her to leave.

Christie said Patterson knuckled under to people “who came running into his office with their hair on fire and said Sarah Christie is trying to hijack the General Plan.”

Patterson denied the existence of either a betrayal or a rift among environmentalists.

Some Christie supporters said at a minimum Patterson may lose support among his base should he run for re-election in 2012.

Sue Harvey of the environmental group North County Watch said the chief problem with Christie’s departure is the loss of her knowledge and skills. But, she added, “If you are asking does this fragment and erode Patterson’s political base, yes I believe it does.”

Morro Bay Vice Mayor Betty Winholtz was part of a group that tried to talk Patterson out of replacing Christie a week before he did so. She told The Tribune on Tuesday that the group warned him it would be political suicide to abandon Christie.

However, Patterson told them and later the general public that he asked Christie to resign because a growing number of people were telling him that they were not being treated even-handedly when they went before the commission.

He said, for those people, “It was like going to court and thinking the judge is biased and you don’t have a chance.”

“I try to … build consensus,” Patterson told The Tribune. “I don’t think she was good at building consensus.”

Asked if that were perception or reality, Patterson said, “It’s actuality as well.” He said he observed her at commission hearings and “she was not handling herself well,” coming off as confrontational and “too forceful.”

Political fallout

Christie and Patterson spoke with The Tribune in separate interviews.

The discussions delineated a fissure that has been widening since at least last summer between the two old friends and political collaborators. The pair worked to dislodge conservative Supervisor Mike Ryan in 2004 and fend off a strong attack from Ryan acolyte Debbie Arnold in 2008.

Christie, a strong-minded, highly knowledgeable environmentalist and a member of the California Coastal Commission staff, drew criticism from the start, particularly from North County ranchers, gravel miners and property rights advocates.

She acknowledges being a lightning rod for criticism but adds, “Lightning rods are important; they keep your house from burning down.”

Until this past summer, Patterson defended her, even during the 2008 campaign when she was being loudly reviled by Patterson’s opponents. He said in light of that and other acts of loyalty, he finds Christie’s accusation of betrayal “odd.”

“I don’t get the betrayal thing,” Patterson said.

During the 2008 election, Christie said Patterson’s campaign polled to see how much of a drag she was on his re-election chances. “It was on the table,” she said.

Patterson was re-elected in June 2008, but it was not until this past August that he told her to prepare her exit strategy, she said.

Christie said he told her there are people in the community who would not speak to him because she was his planning commissioner.

“He thinks with me gone the noise will stop and he can go back to being the beloved, benevolent politician he sees himself as,” Christie said.

Christie believes the change in Patterson’s thinking occurred after she submitted comments ahead of time for the commission’s discussion about energy last summer. None of the other commissioners did that this time around, although Christie said they had in previous meetings on other subjects.

She said people unhappy about the way that meeting went showed up at the next hearing and “excoriated the Planning Commission.”

Patterson said it is “absolutely untrue” that he is being pressured by energy companies.

He said he had been “thinking about this for a long time,” and his feeling that it was time for a change grew when he began hearing complaints about Christie’s confrontational style from people who were “not the usual critics.”

“I’m talking about the general public,” he said, citing people in business, health care, agriculture and housing, for example.

None of Christie’s fellow planning commissioners who spoke at the commission meeting after she resigned echoed Patterson’s criticism.

Bruce White, who represents the conservative North County on the commission, called her “thoughtful, considerate and respectful.”

South County farmer Gene Mehlschau, who sometimes disagrees with Christie on policy, added that “the issues are more widely discussed because we are different; that’s the beauty of it.”

In one sense, the matter is academic. Patterson has appointed Dan O’Grady of Atascadero, who has similar values but a different style, saying, “She (Christie) is not the only one who can do this work.”

But if the coalition that worked to put Patterson in office falls apart, it could put a conservative back on the board from the 5th District. That in turn could tip the board’s 3-2 environmental balance back into a 3-2 pro-growth dynamic.

“Honest Chief” Chambers wins appeal against Dept. of Interior

CHAMBERS WINS APPEAL AGAINST U.S. INTERIOR DEPARTMENT
Privacy Act Violation for Bush Officials Destroying Favorable Personnel Evaluation

Washington, DC – In a unanimous ruling, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia today upheld the claim of former U.S. Park Police Chief Teresa Chambers that records exonerating her may have been illegally destroyed by Bush administration officials. The ruling also sets a precedent for using the Privacy Act to redress improper shredding of personnel files and other records, according to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).

The case involves the disappearance of a favorable performance evaluation for Chief Chambers prepared by then-Deputy Park Service Director Donald Murphy covering the same period when Murphy later alleged Chambers had ignored the chain-of-command – allegations utterly absent from Murphy’s appraisal, according to sworn testimony. Chambers is seeking restoration as Chief of the U.S. Park Police following her dismissal in 2004 after an interview she gave to The Washington Post concerning staff shortages. Her dismissal was based in part on charges that would be impeached by a glowing performance evaluation.

In 2005, Chambers filed a lawsuit under the Privacy Act on the grounds that this key exculpatory evidence had been intentionally and wrongfully destroyed. In 2008, the federal district court dismissed the complaint, ruling that the government only had an obligation to undertake a diligent search for the document. Chambers appealed, arguing, among other things, that a diligent search was no remedy when the government had already improperly destroyed the document that was the object of the search.

“This is an important ruling not only for Teresa Chambers but for all citizens who rely upon the government to safeguard records about them,” stated PEER Senior Counsel Paula Dinerstein who argued the appeal. “The federal government cannot shred incriminating documents with impunity.”

The ruling remands the case back for a trial on whether Interior in fact intentionally destroyed the evaluation. In the meantime, Chambers’ direct challenge to her dismissal is before another federal appellate court, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit. That latter panel has already ruled once for Ms. Chambers only to have two holdover Republican appointees on the Merits Systems Protection Board again reject her challenge. Her appeal on the underlying action will be argued this fall.

A definitive ruling on the missing performance evaluation would undermine Interior’s contention that the dismissal of Chief Chambers was justified on the merits.

“The long legal saga of Chief Chambers boils down to one question – May a public servant be fired for telling the truth, especially a truth vital to public safety?” Dinerstein added. “We also wonder how long the Obama administration will want to keep on defending the multiple acts of misconduct by their predecessors in this case.”

What’s our national BLM science coordinator up to? Not a lot.

What has your national science coordinator at the Bureau of Land Management in Washington, D.C. been doing lately? The answer is, not a lot.
Besides giving a conference paper here or there, we can find only one bit of testimony before Congress, a powerpoint presentation, and a few other minor things. The recommendation of the Public Land Foundation seem to have fallen on deaf ears (see below).

What’s being done

Although the directors of land agencies have spoken of their concern about climate change for many years, there is little evidence that actual efforts are under way to create ways to adapt to it. Most of what has gone on, as of the summer of 2008, is still in the category of talking, meeting, and scheduling workshops. However, some agency heads are now trying to construct the guidance that GAO and others said has been sorely missing.

They also are realizing that climate change is not another pesky environmentalist buzzword that should be invoked alongside the usual suspects of habitat loss, invasive species, and the like. Ron Huntsinger, the national science coordinator for the Bureau of Land Management, says, “We have been addressing the impacts of changing climates for some time, but not under the rubric of ‘climate change.’

“We know what some of the anthropogenic causative factors are, and we should be taking appropriate action on those. Right now the focus is on greenhouse gases, which I think is shortsighted. We should be responding to ecosystem changes”—for example, the waste of natural resources, the “extravagant use of energy,” and the use of products like broad-spectrum pesticides—and developing better recycling and transportation systems. “This is a systemic issue not restricted to the effects on climate change, but which encompasses the larger issues of the general health and well-being of humans and natural systems,” Huntsinger says.

Lynn Scarlett, the interior department’s deputy secretary, attributes increased activity at the department to a variety of recent public reports. She points to “the accumulated amount of research information and knowledge building, all of which have come together to amplify the seriousness of the issue and drive people to take action.” She named a number of assessments and task forces, along with the efforts of the USGS. “I think certainly the creation of the Climate Change Task Force by Secretary [Dirk] Kempthorne has been a spark to action. All of these things together, I think, have increased the pace and extent” of action. (Asked about Al Gore’s contribution, she replied: “I don’t know how much that figured into folks’ thoughts. I haven’t heard that mentioned by folks as a driver.”)

The Climate Change Task Force that Scarlett cites, and which she heads, brings together some three dozen interior department experts to explore issues facing climate change science. The group has been meeting periodically for a year and a half, with the aim of providing Secretary Kempthorne with a body of information on which to act. The meetings have been closed to the public, and records of its deliberations are not available publicly.

In October, 2008, BLM put out a call for nominations to all State Directors as follows:

EMS TRANSMISSION 10/16/2008
Information Bulletin No. 2009-006

To: All State Directors

From: Assistant Director, Renewable Resources and Planning

Subject: Call for Nominations for Science Committee Members DD: 10/17/2008

The Director has approved the revised Science Strategy (attachment 1) and the charter for the Science Committee (attachment 2). The Science Strategy calls for a formal approach to the application of science to the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) programs based on the identification of agency priorities. The Science Committee will play a key role for the BLM in the future, including prioritizing and approving research project proposals for funding. Both documents are currently being printed at the National Operations Center.

The first step in implementing the strategy is the formation of the Science Committee. There are 12 members of the Committee. Three positions on the committee are filled by nominations from the field, and are to represent the three levels of officials of the BLM field organization – Deputy State Directors, District Managers, and Field Managers. These committee members will serve terms of 2 years, with the potential of reappointment for an additional 2 years. The committee is expected to meet or conference twice a year – shortly after the new budget year, and prior to the development of the budget justification. However, additional sessions may be called if circumstances warrant. In order to keep costs down, it is anticipated that most of the meetings will be by conference call.

Recognizing that Committee members already have a great demand on their time, it is our desire to utilize the work of the committee efficiently, and limit the additional demand that participation would require. To do so, the Committee will be assisted by the Division of Resource Services and a standing subcommittee made up of the State Office Science Coordinators, Regional Science Coordinators, and the Joint Fire Science Coordinator at the National Interagency Fire Center. The first task of the Committee will be to participate in the development of the implementation plan for the Science Strategy. With the recognition of the need to better manage our research activities as a part of the M4E initiative, we would like to initiate this effort in the near future. To that end, please submit your nominations for the three field representative positions by the due date cited above.

It is our desire to schedule the first meeting of the Science Committee before the end of the current calendar year. Nominees will be notified of their selection to the Committee, and the scheduling of the first meeting.

Thank you for your assistance in this very important effort. For further information please contact Ron Huntsinger, National Science Coordinator, at (202) 452-5177.

Signed by: Authenticated by:
Edwin L. Roberson Robert M. Williams
Assistant Director Division of IRM Governance,WO-560
Renewable Resources and Planning

2 Attachments
1 – Bureau of Land Management Science Strategy (18 pp)
2 – Science Committee Charter (3 pp)

Public Lands Foundation Position Statement

The Role of Science in BLM Land Management Decisions

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

Science is important for supporting land management decisions and helping to outline their consequences. The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) must state clearly the role of science in resource management decision-making and act accordingly. The use of science within BLM has received critical media attention. Recent media debates about perceived conflicts between scientists, policy makers and political appointees have led the public to question public policy decisions, and have eroded the public trust. The Public Lands Foundation (PLF) believes BLM needs to reinforce its institutional commitment to the application of science to land management decisions. Also, BLM would benefit from increased partnerships with public and private science providers in making informed resource management decisions. The use of the best available science is critical when developing public land policy. A clearly understood and transparent relationship between scientists and policy makers can be highly productive and beneficial to BLM and the public.

BACKGROUND

Land management is complex because the natural and social systems that are affected are complex. Full consideration of relevant scientific information can improve land management decisions. It can expand the number of options considered, and it can increase the probability that intended outcomes will be achieved. The Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976 (FLPMA) directs BLM to use science in its decision-making process:

In the development and revision of land use plans, the Secretary shall use a systematic interdisciplinary approach to achieve integrated consideration of physical, biological, economic and other sciences. [Section 201, FLPMA]

Policy development is rightfully a political process. When done well it involves defining the issues; gathering the best scientific knowledge and technology, pertinent facts and opinions about the issues; and then designing a policy to address the issues in a scientifically sound, socially acceptable, economically feasible and legally possible manner. Poor public policy results when scientific knowledge and facts are ignored, suppressed or distorted to further a particular political agenda. Likewise, poor public policy can occur when narrow scientific analysis is used to dictate and justify complex policy choices that involve social and political outcomes. Both misuses of science by policy makers and by scientists (and science providers such as U.S. Geological Survey, Agricultural Research Service, academia, etc.) impact the public’s trust in BLM’s decisions.

BLM, as defined by FLPMA, is not by itself a scientific research organization; rather, BLM is a resource management agency that uses science to inform its land management decisions and policies. Scientific research provides data and knowledge for BLM decisions in land use planning, National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (NEPA) analyses and policy options.

Fundamentally, quality resource management depends on the interface of science and policy. Within BLM the interface between science and policy occurs primarily at the field management level when land management decisions are made or at the national level when policies are developed. At the present time, the linkage between science and policy-making is often informal and serendipitous.

Most science providers have rules (policies, manuals, guidelines, codes of ethics, etc.) for producing science, getting peer review, and interfacing with policy makers. BLM does not. Thus, BLM must rely on luck, opportunity and its limited institutional capabilities to link science and policy.

BLM does not have a separate research organization. However, it has a wide variety of highly-qualified resource professionals and researchers inside and outside of the agency who provide scientifically based information to inform the policy-making processes.

Whether science is the underpinning or the driver of policy is not always clear. Science should be neutral to policy and both scientists and policy makers need to understand this. Science provides the facts on which good analysis and policy can be based. Scientists and policy makers must work together to make decisions on complex biological, physical and social science issues.

As long as there have been professional resource managers, there have been scientists in the field of resource management. Current media attention indicates that those who promote and oppose current BLM policy decisions both use science to justify their policy positions.

Advancements in policy often lag behind advancements in science and technology. And, conclusive science is often not available within practical timeframes to inform management decisions. Within BLM, the informal linkage of science and policy leads to further diminishment of science influencing policy. Recent expansion of concepts such as ecological restoration, landscape scale analysis, and multiple species habitat conservation plans are just examples. Best Management Practices based on scientific analysis of their consequences and efficacy would be an example of an appropriate and timely linkage of science and policy.

Historical BLM efforts have made a start at increasing its institutional capability and commitment to the use of relevant science, but much still remains. On September 26, 2000, the BLM Director approved BLM’s Science Strategy (available at http://www.blm.gov/nstc) which sets forth an overall approach to science with the following three primary objectives:

1. “to delineate the role of science in BLM decision making and public land management;

2. to establish a clear process for identifying science needs and priorities and to assure that those needs are reflected in the Bureau’s Strategic Plan and budget; and

3. to provide a mechanism for communicating the Bureau’s science needs, sharing its science and results, and highlighting its science opportunities on BLM-managed public lands.”

From the mid-1970s to the mid-1990s, BLM used a Science Coordination Committee with representatives from each State and the Headquarters offices to address science needs. This committee played an important role by providing, among other things, internal coordination of calls for research priorities from agencies such as the U.S. Geological Survey, Agricultural Research Service, U.S. Forest Service, etc. The committee was discontinued for a couple of years (about 1996 to 1998), re-established in 1998, and then disbanded again within the last few years. BLM Science Advisor positions in the Headquarters office also were eliminated. Over time, Science Coordinator positions were created in several directorates to provide some focus on science at the Headquarters level. Their success has been directly proportional to priority given to science by their Assistant Director. And, a commitment by one Assistant Director did not necessarily translate into a commitment by all Assistant Directors.

A Science Advisory Board (a Federal Advisory Committee Act—FACA—committee) was established in about 1996, which consisted of representatives from outside of BLM. Its charter was allowed to lapse within the last few years.

PLF Annual Meeting

At its annual meeting in Golden, Colorado in September 2006, PLF was privileged to have Patricia Nelson Limerick, Professor of History, University of Colorado, Boulder, Colorado, as a luncheon speaker. Professor Limerick spoke about the history of western expansion and the importance of science to decision-making. Later in the meeting, a panel composed of a BLM scientist and a BLM manager spoke on “Science in BLM Decision-making.” Panelists emphasized the need for scientists who understand BLM laws and programs and can explain their findings in terms that managers can understand and use in decision-making. BLM panelists also recognized that NSTC has limited capability to create new science and that its basic role is linking field management to relevant science.

PLF CONCLUSIONS

BLM’s use of science is part of a continuing public dialogue. Patricia Limerick has stated: “In shaping the West’s past, present, and future, no factor is more interesting and consequential than the role of science.” She goes further to explain a number of circumstances that reflect BLM’s role, as mandated by FLPMA in the “new west”. These include such concepts as BLM’s ability to promote partnerships among diverse interests, skill at advancing ecological restoration and rehabilitation of degraded habitats, landscape scale analysis, and skill at adapting to local variation. This management occurs within a context of multiple risk and multiple demands, commonly known as multiple use management.

We concur with her conclusions, and proffer that BLM, as the largest federal land manager with the most diverse land management responsibilities, has a continuing and expanding role in the American west to continue its legacy of promoting, utilizing, and advancing sound science for land management decisions. And, PLF calls upon BLM to increase its institutional capability and commitment to use relevant science in policy development, NEPA analyses and land management decisions.

PLF believes BLM’s Science Strategy clearly articulates a process for effectively using science and technology in BLM land management decision-making. However, PLF also believes BLM management needs to make an even stronger commitment to a) implementing this Strategy than it has in the recent past, b) acquiring the resources needed to assure science is given appropriate consideration in natural resource management decisions, and c) share that commitment with its staff, constituents and the public. BLM needs to walk the talk.

Practicing science in a political environment is always challenging, especially without rules and guidelines. Practicing science in a highly decentralized organization also is difficult. Current trends in diminishing the role of BLM’s science organization and eliminating the technology transfer and linkage between science and policy is troubling. Budget cuts in this arena provide only short term benefits and further reduce BLM’s capability to manage the public lands based on relevant scientific concepts. There are opportunities for BLM to reinforce its capability and commitment to the development and use of sound science. We also believe there are opportunities to further define and refine a linkage between science and policy. The Forest Service, as an example, has clear roles and relationships between researchers and policy makers (See Mills, et al).

There are opportunities to formalize roles and relationships between scientists and policy makers, so that media misinformation and the loss of public trust can be avoided. BLM must protect itself from the manipulation of science by institutionalizing the linkage between science and policy and strengthening the roles for scientists, practitioners and managers in policy development.

BLM’s new Managing for Excellence initiative, among other things, proposes to establish a single National Operations Center (NOC) in Denver, Colorado. This will give the NOC a senior executive to lead and manage the organization. NOC will centralize NSTC, the Lands and Resources Project Office, the National Information Resources Management Center, the National Human Resources Management Center, the National Training Center, and the National Business Center under a single Director who will be responsible for servicing the entire BLM. PLF is on record in support of NOC considering it a means of increasing the visibility and stature of NSTC and the other important offices and their service to the field and Headquarters offices of the Bureau.

BLM should avoid the short term expediency of down-sizing NSTC. Even under current budget constraints, it is important that BLM commit to maintaining the current capability of the Center, and to the role of science and technology in resource management. A centralized control is needed to ensure that BLM’s limited research and development dollars are well-spent for the benefit of BLM as a whole. NTSC is the natural location for this operational work.

The Managing for Excellence initiative should advance and promote the role of NSTC in the sound development of national policy. This should lead to an advanced role for NSTC to develop scientific analyses of land management choices, based upon the best available science from within and outside BLM, with consequences and implications identified for policy makers to consider.

The BLM is well-served by a modest centralized science organization like NSTC, lead by a senior executive serving on the BLM leadership team, operated in cooperation with the entire BLM organization, and supplemented with various scientific experts who are located at other BLM duty stations.

PLF RECOMMENDATIONS

The Public Lands Foundation recommends:

1. Roles for Scientists and Managers: BLM establish clear roles and ethical guidelines for policy makers and scientists (i.e., researchers) which foster independent and objective scientific input into policy formulation. This role statement should be unique to the BLM multiple use mission (as compared to single use management) and focus on the complexity of multiple risk assessment in highly complex habitats and landscapes. The Forest Service’s guidelines for scientists and managers are an excellent template for BLM to consider. (See Mills, et al, 2002).

2. Scientific Analysis of Policy Implications: BLM establish guidelines for disclosing scientific consequences that can guide options and alternatives to be considered in proposed land management decisions.

3. Science-based Infrastructure: BLM increase its commitment to the BLM Science Strategy and create an infrastructure to support science in land management decision-making.

4. Science Advisory Board: BLM re-establish a Science Advisory Board to provide independent counsel to the Director on linking policy proposals to relevant and current science findings, and to discuss the potential consequences of proposed new policy based on scientific interpolations.

5. Linking Science and Resource Management: BLM establish a National Operations Center in Denver, as provided for in its Managing for Excellence initiative, to strengthen the linkage of science and resource management decision-making and to provide increased visibility and stature to NSTC and other operational offices.

Bibliography:

“Making the Most of Science in the American West: An Experiment,” Patricia Limerick and Claudia Puska, Report #5, from the Center of the American West, University of Colorado, 2003.

Available at www.centerwest.org

“Achieving Science-Based National Forest Management Decisions While Maintaining the Capability of the Research and Development Program,” Thomas J. Mills, Richard V. Smythe, and Hilda Diaz-Soltero, Pacific Northwest Research Station, April 2002, 20 pages.

“Bureau of Land Management Science Strategy,” BLM/RS/PL-00/001+1700, September 26,2000, 19 pages. Available at www.blm.gov/nstc.

Carrizo Plain National Monument faces threats from inside and out

Carizzo Faces Threats from Inside and Out (San Luis Obispo New Times)
Saving the silence
Carrizo Plain National Monument faces threats from inside and out
BY MATT KETTMANN

The Carrizo Plain opened up like an earthen vault, its natural jewels spilling before my eyes, accompanied by serious silence. I had traveled a long journey inland by pickup truck to explore the riches of the remote national monument some 70 miles from SLO.

Encompassing 250,000 acres, the vast grasslands extended endlessly north, crept casually up the rolling hills to the east, and jutted violently into mountains on the west. The road soon turned to dirt before continuing all the way to the alkali-rimmed Soda Lake, a refuge for rare birds and rarer shrimp. Attempting to get a grip on the monument’s official significance, I stopped at the Goodwin Visitors’ Center, where I was encouraged to hike to Painted Rock, one of the few outcroppings on the otherwise uninterrupted plain. Painted Rock is one of the inland Chumash people’s most revered shrines, a three-story high, rocky womb adorned with detailed pictographs that still speak after years of weather and vandalism. If I wasn’t already enchanted with the Carrizo, this spiritual experience sealed the deal.

Splendor imperiled

Despite the renewing tranquility of the spectacular natural vistas of the Carrizo Plain, there’s never been a more crucial moment for determining their future. As policymakers put the finishing touches on the monument’s official management plan—which has taken much longer than expected, due to official and personal politics—threats to the status quo loom both inside and outside its borders. From the oil and gas claims that cover nearly half of the protected acreage to the massive solar power plants being proposed just north of the monument’s border to debates over habitat restoration, cultural resources, and grazing practices, to an increasing amount of visitors, all involved are debating vital issues about the future of the Carrizo Plain National Monument. The results of those discussions will reveal what we as Californians consider our priorities, and could have ramifications that will echo far beyond the silence of the Carrizo Plain.

Located in the southeastern corner of the county, owned by the federal Bureau of Land Management (BLM), and operated in partnership with the Nature Conservancy and the state Department of Fish and Game, the Carrizo Plain National Monument is home to more specially protected animal and plant species than almost anywhere in the country—from the kit fox, kangaroo rat, antelope squirrel, and blunt-nosed leopard lizard to the jewelflower, woolly-threads, and Hoover’s woolly-star. The 38-mile-long, 17-mile-wide Carrizo is considered to be the last vestige of what the 300-mile-long San Joaquin Valley looked like before agriculture took over; its ecosystem essentially extends another 50 or so miles to the north toward Highway 46 east of Paso Robles.

“This is the last remaining facsimile of the grasslands that once covered all of California,” explained Mike “Doc” Malkin, a former drama professor at Cal Poly, who’s a member of the Friends of the Carrizo Plain, a volunteer organization that
provides docents, builds trails, refurbishes historic buildings, removes old fences, and serves as the monument’s watchdog. “When it’s gone, it’s gone.” Throw in the antelope, elk, a few roving coyotes and cougars, eagles of the bald and golden variety, some fairy shrimp, songbirds galore, and the occasional California condor, and there’s little wonder why Carrizo has been called “California’s Serengeti.”

Carrizo’s historic homesteads, farms where people survived for generations by growing barley and winter wheat and ranches where cattle and sheep paid the bills, became more parched throughout the decades, forcing most folks to move on but allowing nature to fill in the void. By the mid-1980s, the Nature Conservancy teamed up with the BLM to create the Carrizo Plain Natural Area, which they did by buying more than 80,000 acres from land investment company Oppenheimer Industries in 1988. Congress kicked in money for another 50,000-plus acres within two years, and since then, smaller purchases have grown the monument to a quarter-million acres.

However, the protections, even as a national monument, remain somewhat tenuous, in large part due to the potential wealth of oil and gas that sit below the monument’s surface. Valid mineral resource claims exist on more than 100,000 acres of the monument; any development could have disastrous impacts on the Carrizo’s critters and calmness.

I took another trip to Carrizo Plain to meet up with Malkin, who was joined by the monument’s wildlife biologist Kathy Sharum and Roger Gambs, a retired biology professor from Cal Poly who’s active with Friends of the Carrizo Plain. Sharum and monument manager Johna Hurl both spend a great deal of time dealing with the difficult challenge of habitat restoration, which has become a hot button issue for those who’d rather use the monument for livestock grazing, hunting, off-road driving, and other potentially damaging activities. Some of those folks criticize native plant and animal restoration by saying that the genie of modern impacts and introduced species simply cannot be put back in the pre-European-contact bottle. “I don’t think any of us want to play God,” Sharum told me that day at the monument’s KCL Campground, where numerous orange flags, denoting kit fox and kangaroo rat dens, flapped in the midday wind. “We don’t have the perfect ecosystem,” she admitted. “But realistically, you work with what you have.”

Compared to other ruined landscapes across the world, the Carrizo isn’t too far off from its original form. That gives Sharum, Malkin, Gambs, and all the members of Friends of the Carrizo Plain hope for the future. Explained Gambs, while in the shade of a dilapidated barn with a telephoto lens around his neck, “We are trying to get the Carrizo up there with what could someday be an internationally recognized model of how a national
monument ought to operate.”

Planning for the Plain

The most crucial part of that model is the monument’s management plan, which is nearing completion. Today, everyone involved—from the BLM to its nine- member advisory committee to those watching from the sidelines, including Friends of the Carrizo Plain—is satisfied with the progress. But it wasn’t always that way.

Soon after the monument was created in 2001, 13-year BLM veteran Marlene Braun was named manager. Having been stationed in Alaska and Nevada, the workaholic Braun finally felt at home on the Carrizo, and took intense pride in protecting it. She scaled back grazing on sensitive grasslands and began developing the monument’s first management plan, which would phase out long-term livestock permits. Every agency signed on, even the BLM’s California office. Then, in March 2004, the Bush administration—which was critical of Clinton’s last-minute monument designations—appointed Ron Huntsinger as Braun’s supervisor in BLM’s Bakersfield field office. With marching orders to favor ranching over preservation and “fix this plan,” Huntsinger and Braun became immediate enemies. The two butted heads repeatedly, so much so that in May 2005, Braun—who had also been dealing with her own psychological demons—arranged her personal affairs and wrote a few important letters about her fears for the Carrizo. She then took a .38 caliber revolver, killed her two dogs—neatly placing their bodies under a quilt—and turned the gun on herself.

Braun’s suicide shocked the region, resulted in a federal investigation, and eventually led to Huntsinger’s transfer. The management plan was the fourth casualty. “The whole process imploded. It collapsed,” explained Neil Havlik, who was named to the monument’s advisory committee when it was created in 2002. “It was finally decided that the process should start all over again.” Relations soured between the Carrizo staff and the BLM higher-ups. “That trust took time to rebuild,” said Havlik, the City of San Luis Obispo’s natural resources manager, “but it has been rebuilt.” That’s thanks in large part to the appointment of Tim Smith as the BLM field supervisor in Bakersfield, who Havlik called a “really great guy.”

Nearly four years after Braun’s suicide, the current plan reflects her vision. “I am very happy with the plan,” said Havlik, who’s spent much of his last 13 years at the city protecting open space. “It is setting policies that are progressive, that are going to be responsive to scientific recommendations and input.” Specifically, the plan addresses grazing, mineral extraction, cultural resource protection, wilderness designation, and roads, and has proposed three alternatives that range from more hands-off management to intense involvement. The BLM staff’s preferred alternative is number two, which blends the two more extreme alternatives, encourages a “moderate” expansion of wilderness zones (where no motorized vehicles are allowed), reduces the redundant roadways, only allows
grazing for “vegetation management,” stabilizes historic sites, and makes Painted Rock accessible only by permit or tour.

Since BLM is an agency that traditionally allows extractive industries, the management plan does not affect the “valid and existing” mineral rights that cover about 100,000 acres of the monument, including four active oil wells in the Caliente Range. Any attempt to eliminate those surely would have led to a massive fight, but if a recent response to an oil-drilling proposal is any indication, the monument is in good hands.

That proposal came during the oil price spike of late 2007 from oil company Vintage Production, which announced its intent to do seismic testing on its 30,000 acres of mineral holdings on the valley floor. Testing would involve “thumper trucks” that send soundwaves into the Earth to look for oil and gas. That process, said Helen O’Shea of the Natural Resources Defense Council, “is particularly damaging in an environment like the Carrizo where you have animals like the kit fox and kangaroo rat that actually live underground.” When presented with this proposal, the BLM had multiple options, but they chose the strictest and asked Vintage for a full Environmental Impact Statement. Months later, the oil company has not yet responded. “We’re very pleased to see the BLM choose appropriately and hold the applicant to the highest possible standard,” said O’Shea.

One thing that’s not controllable is the number of visitors; increased use is something that’s worried former county supervisor Jerry Diefenderfer ever since it became a monument in 2001. A fourth generation Carrizo-dweller whose family has been ranching in the area since 1865, Diefenderfer was involved in the initial BLM acquisition in the ’80s, but thought a monument designation was “premature.” Diefenderfer, a former president of Friends of the Carrizo Plain, believes there is still not enough staff to watch over the quarter-million acres, even with only about 3,000 counted visitors per year. Indeed, anyone who spends much time on the Carrizo is bound to see some bizarre human activity—there’ve been accounts of drug-running, meth-making, body-dropping, sports car-burning, and the like for years. “I know a lot of people would like to have more activity there,” said Diefenderfer. “But I think it would be unhealthy for the monument to have that, simply because we’re not geared to handle a large number of people. And I quietly hope that day is a long way away.”

His government-fearing neighbor Darrell Twisselman, whose family has been on the Carrizo since the 1880s, agrees, and loudly. “The reason the endangered species [are] still there is because there was nothing out there but a few old farmers,” he explained in his good-ole-boy twang. “Now they’re bringing all kinds of people out there and they’re gonna defeat their purpose.” When the Wilderness Society tried to establish the Carrizo as a UNESCO World Heritage Site—which would have upped its international appeal—Twisselman “fought the hell out of that. You’d get 20,000 tourists running around here. That’s no way to protect your endangered species.” That campaign, which requires regional support, was shot down by county supervisors in March 2007.

For all his anti-environmentalist ire, Twisselman did play a major role in making the Carrizo what it is today. In the late 1980s, he helped the Department of Fish and Game reintroduce the pronghorn antelope and tule elk to the Carrizo, driving them down himself from Mount Shasta. Now, he allows people to hunt them on his land for a fee, and laughs when people cite them as some sort of threatened species. The self-proclaimed “true environmentalist” who believes the environmental movement has turned into a power-grab, recommends “building a big fence around it and getting away from it. Of course,” Twisselman continued with a chuckle, “I’m not very popular with those guys.”

Though the monument can’t physically restrict visitors from driving through, Havlik assured that the management plan is not designed to attract hordes of people. “In some ways, this is the place where time has gone backward,” he said. “The opportunity for solitude and reflection is really a great thing, and that’s one of the things I think everybody appreciates about the monument. We don’t want to make it into Disneyland. We don’t want a lot of attractions out there. The natural environment is the attraction.”

Solar Dreams or Eco-Nightmares?

While the monument’s managers may not be setting up the Carrizo as the “happiest place on Earth,” no one can deny it’s one of the sunniest. Pair that with cheap land, existing electrical transmission lines, and political pressure from both the state and feds for renewable energy, and it’s easy to understand why the lands just north of the monument’s border are being targeted for the most massive solar power plants on the planet. When combined, these proposed plants—two photovoltaic, under review by the county, and one solar thermal, under review by the California Energy Commission—would provide energy to nearly 100,000 homes but only by covering more than 16 square miles of the valley floor, an area nearly the size of the City of Santa Barbara. If all are approved—and there’s plenty of motivation in the federal stimulus plan, which will pay for 30 percent of projects that begin construction by 2010—many fear that the solar plants would block migration patterns for the kit fox, antelope, and other species, threaten Soda Lake by tapping an already overburdened groundwater basin, and damage views irrevocably.

“I live right in the middle of it,” said Mike Strobridge, an auto mechanic who lives with his daughter in a house near the monument that would be surrounded by the proposed plants. “It’s peaceful. I love the wildlife. Then these solar guys come in and they’re just gonna destroy the area.”

Robin Bell, who is building a retirement home about a quarter-mile away from a proposed plant, is worried, too, and has formed the Carrisa Alliance for Responsible Energy, or CARE. (“Carrisa Plains” is a colloquial name for the area.) She explained, “I personally feel strongly that all these rules and regulations are in place for a reason, and, in the name of being green, these power companies are exploiting that.” Bell favors distributed renewable energy, i.e., solar panels on homes and businesses throughout the state. “I totally support the development of renewable energy, but at what cost?” she asked. “This area has one of the highest concentrations of special species in the state. To me, it seems like the last place you should be doing this.”

Bell is also watching two bills moving through the state legislature that, if passed, would put all renewable energy projects under the control of a new state commission. (Currently, photovoltaic projects are reviewed by counties and industrial-type plants, such as solar thermal, are reviewed by the state.) Bell fears the bills would streamline the process too quickly and eliminate all local control.

The specific effect on the monument remains to be seen. But Mary Strobridge, a member of CARE and mother of Mike, is concerned the plants would ruin anyone’s experience who visited the monument from the northern entrance. “It would just be devastating to drive into the Carrisa Plains and see a 10-story-tall industrial solar plant right smack dab in the middle of it, with 640 acres of pipes and mirrors and around that photovoltaic cells going on for thousands and thousands of acres,” she said. “It just doesn’t make sense to me.”

Making sense of the two photovoltaic projects is the job of John McKenzie, a county planner. Among other issues, he’s analyzing migration corridors, groundwater limitations, and the loss of ag land. “It’s really a quandary for a lot of people,” he said. “It does try to address a huge environmental problem, but it’s at the potential expense of some more localized environmental problems. It’s one of those very difficult issues.” More frightening, however, is that no one’s really had to review projects such as these ever before. McKenzie has “zero” experience in doing so. “These are the two biggest plants in the world,” he said. “This county is getting to be one of the first folks to deal with it.”

The third project—a solar thermal plant proposed by Australian company Ausra that uses sun power to heat water to turn turbines—is considered more industrial, so it falls under the purview of the California Energy Commission. But even that commission is still getting up to speed with projects of this type. Said its chairperson Karen Douglas, “We’ve got much more experience siting natural-gas plants than siting renewables, both from a staff and commission perspective. So some issues are rising up in the renewables case that are substantively different than what has been the core of the siting work before the solar applications started coming in so quickly.” There are ongoing studies of how to incorporate renewable projects while protecting ecosystems—studies Douglas hopes “will be a model for how we can get this done”—but those are strictly for the Mojave Desert, and currently have no bearing on the Carrizo.

The solar power companies, however, believe the time and location are right. Ausra’s Katherine Potter explained, “There is certainly a good place for distributed generation, but to ensure the reliability of the grid, you do need large-scale power generation.” Added Alan Bernheimer of OptiSolar, which proposed one of the photovoltaic projects (but recently sold to First Solar), “We need all the solar power we can get, both distributed and large-scale. It’s not a question of either/or. It’s both.”

As the solar projects move forward and analysts begin to assess potential impacts to the monument, Mike Strobridge is holding his ground. “At this point, we’re frustrated and doing everything we can to make sure if something does come in, it’s put in responsibly.” And that’s about all anyone else can ask for.

Breathe deep

Amid the debates over solar projects and monument management, one point was uttered by almost every one of the more than 20 people contacted for this article: The Carrizo is not for everyone. “You either get it or you don’t,” exclaimed biologist Gambs. “There is no in-between!” Echoed rancher and former politician Diefenderfer, “I’m not sure what it is, but I do know that in my 65 years of lifetime, everybody I’ve dealt with on the Carrizo Plain, they either love it or they hate it.”

Flat, bleak, dry, and desolate, the region turns off those scared of solitude, those who don’t appreciate the silent stillness, those who aren’t impressed by rare species of plants and animals. But like a good book, those who continue reading the Carrizo will find that its characters are rich, its storyline quite deep, and its value immeasurable. ∆

Matt Kettmann is the senior editor of the Santa Barbara Independent, where this article was first published. Comments can be addressed to econnolly@newtimesslo.com.

BLM Testimony of Elaine Downing: “Employees are fearful of retaliation”

This is the public testimony of Elaine Downing, whose union represents over 600 employees of the US Bureau of Land Management in California. Mike Pool, the director of the BLM in California, has recently been named acting director of the national office of the BLM in Washington, DC. Although this is quite long, the testimony is very informative about the low morale at BLM and why it exists. Ms. Downing does not mention the suicide of Marlene Braun or the problem of bullying in the workplace per se, but the conditions she describes make it understandable how those things happened under Mr. Pool’s watch. What Downing does not mention are the managers at the level below field office supervisor, which is where Marlene Braun was, if I understand her rank correctly. She was management, but had to report to the field office supervisor, Ron Huntsinger. Such people are not represented by the union, but they can be subject to bullying. Being in management doesn’t prevent that.

Testimony of Elaine Downing, Vice President
National Federation of Federal Employees, Local 2152,
California Bureau of Land Management
Before the House Committee on Natural Resources
Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests, and Public Lands
Regarding Restoring the Federal Public Lands Workforce
March 19, 2009

Thank you, Chairman Grijalva and distinguished Committee members, for the opportunity to
submit the following testimony.
My name is Elaine Downing. I serve as the Vice President of the National Federation of Federal
Employees (NFFE), Local 2152, representing approximately 600 Bureau of Land Management
employees throughout the state of California. Additionally, I keep in close contact with
numerous employees from other BLM offices, both represented by NFFE and other unions.
Overall, employee morale within BLM is relatively low, as evidenced in the recent government-
wide employee satisfaction survey. I believe the results of the employee satisfaction survey
actually misrepresent the true level of employee morale. In my estimation, morale is lower than
the survey indicates, because many employees are fearful of retaliation if they answer the survey
honestly. Many rank and file employees do not believe that the survey is actually anonymous,
regardless of the agency’s assurances, and many chose not to even respond to the survey.
It is difficult to point to one or two solitary reasons for low morale, as there are a multitude of
reasons for low morale within the Bureau. What I hope to do is to explain some of the more
often heard complaints that the union hears and witnesses in representing employees, or has
experienced firsthand. Our issues revolve around ethics, labor relations, workforce planning,
resource protection, performance appraisals and awards, and the balance between home- and
work-life. In my testimony, I have also included recommendations for improvements regarding
some of these concerns.

Workforce Planning
There is much concern among rank and file employees at BLM that upper level management
officials do not adequately manage how the work within the department is done. With critical
vacancies in the field for long periods of time, new software implementations that are impacting
all programs, unprecedented wildfire seasons in California, national emergencies like Hurricane
Katrina, and alternative energy development mandates, employees at BLM are constantly trying
to handle too many top priorities at once.

In my opinion, far too high of a percentage of agency resources are allocated toward supporting
higher level managers residing mostly in district and state offices, while the field offices, where
the majority of the agency’s mission is actually accomplished, get too small of a percentage.
Many field offices are severely understaffed and overworked. There is also concern that
management officials build hierarchies to protect their position and grade at the state and district
levels, while leaving protracted vacancies in critical positions at the field level. Having too
many managers and not enough rank and file employees to do the work has several undesirable
consequences; it is a waste of much-needed resources, it causes understaffing of critical
positions, it causes rank and file employees to be overworked, it has a tendency to make rank and
file employees feel micromanaged and pulled in different directions, and it ultimately hurts the
ability of the agency to carry out its mission.
Some people, particularly high level management officials, will point to budget shortfalls as a
primary cause of low employee morale. It is true that most employees are disheartened by
inadequate funding within their programs. However, we hear more complaints about the lack of
integrity in how and which vacancies are filled than complaints of a shortfall of appropriated
funds.
Here is an example of the kind of action that has frustrated BLM workers: Management will
allow for the advertising of a realty specialist position in an office where there is already one or
two, while in the same period, the agency will leave a critical realty specialist job in a field office
vacant for months, even though that field office does not have a single realty specialist on staff.
Failing to fill this critical vacancy tied the hands of the agency so that it could not carry out a key
function. That field office was unable to process alternative energy development applications for
a period of several months. In this critical time of alternative energy development, this should
not have been allowed to occur. We see lots of cases where BLM inappropriately fills non-
critical vacancies ahead of critical ones in this way. It hurts the mission and it frustrates workers.
Additionally, upper level management seems to lack an ability to manage workload. Rank and
file employees at all levels, but particularly in field offices, are bombarded by data requests and
work assignments from many sources including: Washington office, state office, district office,
other field offices, etc.

In my experience, management places very little if any emphasis on
BLM employees following a chain of command when requesting work to get done. There is also
little to no guidance for employees to make decisions on how to prioritize their work. In
addition, there is a considerable volume of work that comes through the door that BLM
employees are forced to perform, but the time it takes employees to handle these duties is often
overlooked by management. BLM employees often feel they are getting pulled in too many
directions at once, and they are unsure of how to prioritize their assignments. This common
problem has hurt morale at BLM.

Law Enforcement Officers
For law enforcement Rangers at the California BLM, morale is particularly low. These Rangers
are responsible for protecting resources and public safety across 15.2 million acres in California
and 1.6 million acres in northwestern Nevada. The Law Enforcement Ranger program started in
the California Desert District with the passage of the Federal Land Policy Management Act
(FLPMA) of 1976, which specifically mandated the focus toward protection of natural resources
within the California Desert Conservation Area. There is strong pride in California for that
reason.
Prior to 9/11, the ranger corps of BLM was dedicated to resource protection as prescribed under
FLPMA. After 9/11, and with the formation of Homeland Security, several high level BLM law
enforcement officials were hired into the Bureau from outside the agency.
Generally speaking, these new managers were less oriented toward natural resources and more
focused on homeland security. These new law enforcement managers also brought a stricter,
more militaristic style of management to the Ranger force. This shift in focus has caused a lot of
distress for many BLM law enforcement rangers and field office managers. Confusion as to who
these law enforcement officers answer to and who can delegate the work to them, is beginning to
cause friction within the offices, and it is affecting morale for all. Recent funding earmarked for
the California Desert Ranger program has not found its way to California, and there is a growing
concern that it was sent elsewhere.
A common concern we have heard from BLM law enforcement Rangers is that upper level
management does not value law enforcement officers with natural resource backgrounds. Many
law enforcement Rangers have speculated that they were passed up for promotion because
management was promoting from outside the agency for higher level positions. In addition, our
union has had to defend several Rangers against what I would consider to be questionable
disciplinary actions. These suspect disciplinary measures have had a strong tendency to be taken
against Rangers with natural resource orientations, hired before the creation of DHS. Regardless
of whether there is any validity to the concern some law enforcement Rangers have that they are
being treated unfairly, there can be little doubt that morale has fallen due to the perception that
they are not being given equal treatment.

Consolidation of Functions
There are two specific groups of employees at BLM that have recently been targeted for
consolidation, the Information Technology (IT) and Human Resources (HR) personnel. Even
though we as a union do not represent the HR staff (BLM considers them “confidential
employees,” and therefore outside the bargaining unit), they are our coworkers and are a critical
part of our mission. I will use this venue to share some of their major concerns.
In 2005, BLM’s Executive Leadership Team (ELT) started discussing a new initiative called
“Managing for Excellence.” This initiative was supposedly developed with the aim of improving
effectiveness and cost efficiency within BLM. Our union believes there were areas that needed
to be improved, but the agency has not demonstrated that the changes they have implemented,
nor the changes they are planning for in the future, have saved or will save any funds or improve
efficiency.
In fact, one of the primary decisions the team made—to put the three tier system (as opposed to
the two tier system) back in place—will most likely hurt efficiency within BLM. The three tier
system adds another layer of bureaucratic supervision to the field offices, which are actually
accomplishing the work right now, and could accomplish much more if they had adequate
staffing.
According to the ELT’s frequently asked questions document about the restructuring, the
rationale for moving to a three tier system read as follows “We’ve learned that being closer to
the ground with a three-tiered organization allows us to provide better service to the public and
better quality control. It also gives us the opportunity to reduce duplication and overhead
services.”
I respectfully disagree with this conclusion, and have seen no evidence to substantiate it. Adding
a third tier does not accomplish what they have claimed it does. Having worked in an office that
continued to have a district office (three tiers), while others went to two tiers, I have found that
the district does not bring consistency to the field offices. Rather, it adds a layer of management
that is costly and unnecessary. It also seems to justify additional grades to those employees who
often have the same knowledge, skills, abilities, and responsibilities as our field office staffers. I
do not believe that adding this layer of management eliminated any meaningful duplication of
effort or overhead. The three tier system has actually created more overhead and duplication of
effort.
Another one of the Managing for Excellence decisions was to transfer the functions of IT and
HR to a central location in Denver, Colorado. This decision alone is responsible for a drastic
decrease in employee morale. Not only has it impacted the IT and HR employees, but it has
affected all of the employees throughout the BLM.
Our most experienced IT and HR employees have begun looking for jobs elsewhere in their
same communities. Those who are mobile have started looking for jobs outside of BLM.
Promises of assistance regarding career counseling have yet to be fulfilled. Shortages in HR
have been very difficult to overcome, creating a backlog of work, especially during fire season.
In my estimation, it is taking several months longer on average to fill vacancies. Most
employees at or near retirement age feel as though they are being forced into retirement, while
others are taking voluntary downgrades, sometimes 3 or 4 grades below their current level, in
order to end the uncertainty of their future.
The initiative came with promises of union involvement, but we have only been engaged in an ad
hoc fashion. A Washington Office management official said it is the responsibility of the state
offices to negotiate with their local unions. However, local labor relations employees in the
state office cannot engage in meaningful discussions on topics when they do not know what is
going on themselves and they have not been included in the initiative planning. In fact, there has
not been as much as a conference call to collaborate and discuss the impacts of these changes on
BLM employees. A labor-management partnership council would be extremely helpful in
addressing employees concerns with regard to this reorganization.
Although, I have stated our union would like to bargain the impact and implementation of this
reorganization, I would like to make clear that we are adamantly opposed to this reorganization.
We are confident that this change will hurt BLM’s ability to perform HR and IT functions. This
initiative is very similar to the changes the U.S. Forest Service made a few years ago to
centralize IT and HR functions to Albuquerque, New Mexico. By many accounts, Forest
Service’s reorganization has been a disaster, yet BLM is intent on going down that same road. A
reorganization of the IT and HR functions at BLM will be damaging to the agency and promises
to be a tremendous waste of tax-payers’ dollars. BLM is going to lose immeasurable
institutional knowledge and talent as a result of this reorganization.
In addition to the problems I have already discussed, the process that has been developed using
USAjobs.gov has become a tremendous source of frustration for supervisors and HR specialists,
as well as applicants who want to work for the Bureau. Most non-federal applicants, as well as
current BLM employees, have found this system to be overly burdensome and give up after
being aggravated by the software system. In a recent job application for a realty specialist, there
were over 80 questions that had to be answered in addition to submitting a comprehensive
resume within the structure of this system. This is hurting the agency’s ability to recruit the
talent it needs to carry out its mission.

Employee Performance Appraisal Plans and Awards
In 2005, the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) required BLM to switch back to a five
level performance appraisal system from a pass/fail system. The handbook is clear and concise,
describing a comprehensive system to develop critical elements, how to measure or quantify the
level of performance, and the proper procedures for rating employees. However, implementation
of this system has been very problematic.
Our union has reviewed a myriad of performance appraisals throughout the state of California.
When reviewing these appraisals we have discovered that typically everything that is listed in the
position description is listed in either one or two critical elements, while the quantifiable
measurements are ambiguous and subjective. Favored employees of course, get glowing reviews
and non-favored employees are saddled with having to defend themselves against vague,
subjective, and indefensible measurements. BLM needs to do a better job of creating appraisals
that accurately describe the critical elements and performance standards of employees’ duties.
Until these performance appraisals are done properly, BLM employees will continue to
experience great frustration in the performance appraisal process and eventually become
disengaged.
The system would work well if the agency would implement a structure for annual oversight and
make a commitment to adequately train all BLM employees. I believe this change would lead to
tremendous improvements in morale, performance and accountability. All too often, we find
government agencies are blaming the inadequacies of a system on the structure of the system,
when the real problem is the lack of training, oversight, and accountability.
There is no oversight on appraisals within each state or within the agency. There is no
consistency from employee to employee, office to office, or state to state, in both how they are
written and how employees are rated. I recently had the opportunity to discuss this issue with a
realty specialist from New Mexico BLM. This realty specialist had only one critical element on
which to be rated, and that was “safety.” It stands to reason that a GS-11 realty specialist would
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have at least one critical element having to do with something other than safety. This example
shows that BLM is not following OPM guidance in determining critical elements.
Likewise, the awards system at BLM is highly flawed. There is little attempt by BLM to
conduct oversight to ensure consistency. Management officials in the state offices do not review
performance appraisals and ratings for quality or consistency and awards may or may not be tied
to them. Some offices give token awards to everyone. The only person that we know of that
reviews the appraisals and awards in the state of California office is a human resource specialist
whose only objective is to make sure the documents were received. There needs to be more
fairness and accountability in the distribution of awards and it should have a nexus to
performance.
Alternative Pay Systems
We have been closely monitoring so-called pay-for-performance systems that have been
developed and implemented at other agencies. We think it would be a very bad idea for the
Department of Interior to attempt a move to a subjective pay system like ones that have been
developed at the Department of Defense and elsewhere. These alternative pay systems have had
a poor record of success in the federal sector, and in my opinion, the BLM lacks many of the
prerequisites for a fair, transparent, and effective merit pay system. The only way a pay-for-
performance system would work in the federal sector is if there was a fair, objective, and
consistent appraisal system; real accountability demanded from managers; a true 360-degree
performance review of each and every employee, including top management officials; and a
significant increase in funding to support the pay system. All of these requirements are a tall
order to achieve in BLM. Increased funding is particularly difficult with constant pressure to
contain the expense of government services.
New Technology
The effects of the newly implemented software for government travel (GovTrip) and the new
Financial Business Management System (FBMS) system, has been problematic. BLM is unable
to pull reports, pay vendors, reconcile accounts, transfer funds, or process travel authorizations
and vouchers in a timely manner. Travel vouchers that once took approximately one hour, now
take several hours or even days, depending on the availability of the software system. The
software is not user friendly and we have heard many complaints from users at all levels,
including management officials. This is affecting all BLM employees across the agency.
Practically everyone at BLM has been negatively affected by the transition to these software
programs. The acronyms used in the new FBMS are not user friendly and very little guidance
and training has been provided. Employees have been forced to learn the software by soliciting
help from someone else who has had training. It is inconvenient for an office to rely on just one
person for this kind of expertise, which is often the case. Any one person could be out of the
office for an extended period of time. BLM employees are in need of more training on the new
software. This is not just a matter of employees not liking change. It has been extremely
aggravating to all employees because they are unable to perform their duties.

Labor Relations
Under the previous administration, California BLM management became almost completely
unresponsive to union concerns. Under President Bush, a lot of the Clinton era Federal Labor
Relations Authority (FLRA) guidance used to facilitate labor-management relations was
disregarded, and it caused a lot of confusion about how to resolve labor-management disputes
and how to handle unfair labor practices (ULPs). Not only was this action antagonistic toward
labor unions, I believe the confusion caused by this move cost taxpayers millions of dollars in
lost time and efficiency, as labor and management struggled to establish new terms for their
relationship. This is particularly true within BLM where labor-management relations became
extremely difficult and burdensome.
Management officials do not come to the table to negotiate collective bargaining agreements in
California BLM. They delegate the task to labor relations specialists. They do this because the
State Director and the Associate State Director do not seem to care about employees’ concerns
relating to working conditions and morale. Our current contract calls for quarterly meetings
between the union and our State Director or his Associate to discuss problems. During the last
eight years we have yet to meet with the State Director or his Associate.
Our union is hopeful that Congress and the new Administration will re-establish basic labor-
management relations at BLM. We believe that a labor-management partnership council, like
the one in place at the Forest Service, would be an effective way of bringing employee concerns
to the attention of management and addressing them.
Some agencies have elected to retain their labor-management partnerships when both labor and
management found it to be an effective avenue to address issues impacting labor relations. In
contrast, BLM was very quick to terminate their state and national partnership councils when the
opportunity arose. Employees within BLM have seen the lack of follow up on numerous issues
that have been brought to the attention of management. There is serious disconnect between
management and the employees of BLM that we would like to see resolved by reestablishing
partnership councils.

Disparate Treatment between Managers and Rank and File Employees
Our union has witnessed disparate treatment between managers and rank and file in many
different areas. This disparity exists in the awards program, performance appraisals, training,
accountability, discipline, and in the addressing of unethical behavior.
For example, a management official who was caught with inappropriate material on a BLM-
issued computer was disciplined with a suspension, while rank and file employees would be, and
have been, fired for virtually identical offenses. This unfairness has caused a lot of frustration
among BLM employees.
Management officials and management-favored employees have often been allowed to violate
agency policy regarding such things as: internet use and security; use of government vehicles;
use of government equipment for personal use; improper reimbursement during official travel for
personal business; agency policy on pets; and fiscal accountability. Morale would be better at
BLM if the same rules were applied to and enforced on everyone.
Management team meetings during lean times of budget are often held at resort locations, which
are not well received by employees who have been told there is not enough money for their
project, training, awards, office, field supplies, or to implement safety committees as per our
collective bargaining agreement and the law. Disparate treatment between management and rank
and file workers, at many different levels, is hurting morale at BLM.

Whistleblower Protection

Our union believes that current whistle blower protections, as they have been enforced by the
Office of Special Counsel, are inadequate to protect federal workers. Whether it is through
stricter enforcement of existing whistleblower protections, or through legislation, we strongly
support strengthening these key protections, which are such a critical element of government
accountability. BLM employees are in desperate need of a Special Counsel that will protect
employees who open themselves up to reprisal when coming forward with information on waste,
frauds, and abuse. Until a better system is put in place to ensure accountability and protection
from retaliation and adverse actions against whistleblowers, BLM workers will be reluctant to
come forward. Inadequate whistleblower protection at BLM has hurt morale within the
department.

Going Forward With Optimism

Going forward, I and many other employees at BLM have a strong sense of optimism that our
work environment will begin to see marked improvement. We strongly support the efforts of
President Obama and Secretary Salazar to bring integrity and accountability back into the
Department of Interior workforce. The agency will be well served by reevaluating the ethics
regulations and removing politics and ideology from Bureau decision making. There are
hundreds of talented and dedicated employees working throughout BLM who love their job and
love their country. To most of us, working for the American people at an agency that allows us
manage our country’s natural resources, is very rewarding. I consider it a dream come true. We
are surrounded by beautiful scenery and are charged with its protection. It is an honor of mine to
come to work each day.

Conclusion

In closing, I would like to thank you again for this opportunity to provide testimony. Employees
at BLM have had a lot to say about morale but have lacked the venue to say it. It is a great relief
to finally voice some of these concerns before such a distinguished panel. We commend this
Subcommittee for asking BLM employees for their concerns and evaluation of employee morale
at the department. I will be happy to respond to any questions you may have. I can be reached at
Elaine_Downing@ca.blm.gov.

Politics as Usual: A Yes-Man Advanced to Head BLM

Mike Pool, the BLM California Director who rejected Marlene Braun’s appeal over her suspension for sending an email to people with whom she worked has now been promoted. Pool, who had approved the Resource Management Plan Braun submitted before her field office Ron Huntsinger arrived quickly changed his tune and began doing what the Bush Administration wanted: helping to get rid of Marlene Braun.

It is more important than ever to get the full Dept. of Interior OIG report released.
News Release

For Release: February 18, 2009
Contact: John Dearing/Jan Bedrosian, 916-978-4610, email: jdearing@ca.blm.gov;
CA-SO-09-03
BLM Taps Californian Mike Pool as Acting National Director

Mike Pool, California state director of the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM), has been tapped to serve as the agency’s acting national director in Washington D.C., effective March 1.

Pool, 55, a career veteran, has served more than 34 years with BLM, starting at the field office level and working his way up through a variety of assignments in Alaska, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Washington D.C., and the Department of the Interior.

He has been California state director since 2000, overseeing 15.1 million acres of public lands in California and another 1.5 million in northwestern Nevada. In the new acting position, he will oversee 256 million surface acres – more than any other federal agency. Most of this public land is located in 12 western states, including Alaska.

He replaces current BLM Acting Director Ron Wenker, who will return to his current position as BLM’s Nevada state director. Pool will remain in the new assignment pending selection of a permanent director by new Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar. In California, Pool’s Associate State Director Jim Abbott will serve as acting California state director.

“I’m honored by the new assignment and look forward to assisting the new administration care for the public lands under BLM’s jurisdiction,” he said. The 55-year-old Pool, an Arizona native raised in New Mexico, holds a B.S. in wildlife science from New Mexico State University.

RELATED: “Mike Pool, State Director”(BLM-California)
Biography of BLM-California’s state director and new acting national director.
http://www.blm.gov/pgdata/etc/medialib/blm/ca/pdf/pdfs/caso_pdfs.Par.44155.File.dat/PoolBio.pdf