Our public lands need balanced — not extremist — leadership

Our public lands need balanced — not extremist — leadership
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As a citizen you own more than 245 million acres of public land. It is managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) within the U.S. Department of Interior. In 1976 Congress passed the Federal Land Policy and Management Act and determined that these lands were to remain in public ownership.

The law further emphasized that the lands serve multiple uses, in a “combination that will best meet the present and future needs of the American people.” I was honored to be selected by the President and confirmed by the U.S. Senate to be BLM director.  I fully embraced and believe in the agency’s mission "to sustain the health, diversity, and productivity of the public lands for the use and enjoyment of present and future generations.”

As director of the BLM, one must steward much of America’s incredible public lands and outdoor heritage for current and future generations. As a lover of our public lands, it’s an amazing job I was privileged to have.

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Directors need to be open-minded when it comes to embracing the ever changing needs of Americans. Whether it’s expanding outdoor recreational opportunities that provide financial boosts to local economies, promoting policies to prevent wasting methane gas, or supporting the president’s use of the Antiquities Act to permanently protect sensitive habitats and tribal resources.

But President TrumpDonald John TrumpHannity urges Trump not to fire 'anybody' after Rosenstein report Ben Carson appears to tie allegation against Kavanaugh to socialist plot Five takeaways from Cruz, O'Rourke's fiery first debate MORE and Interior Secretary Ryan ZinkeRyan Keith ZinkeMontana lawmakers cheer recommendation to ban mining north of Yellowstone Overnight Energy: Navajo coal plant to close | NC dam breach raises pollution fears | House panel to examine endangered species bills Navajo-owned coal plant to be shut down despite Interior push to keep open MORE’s recent attacks on national monuments and public lands have me more worried than ever about their future and that of the BLM. I am specifically troubled by the rumors about Secretary Zinke’s choice for BLM Director — Karen Budd-Falen.

Karen Budd-Falen, an attorney in Wyoming, has a history of effectively undermining the core functions of the BLM. She has attacked the staff of the agency and filed lawsuits to put public lands employees in jail. She drafted a plan for New Mexico’s Catron County that promoted arresting federal government staff who did not follow the county’s lead:

Federal and state agents threaten the life, liberty, and happiness of the people of Catron County. They present a clear and present danger to the land and livelihood of every man, woman, and child.”

It is remarkable therefore that Budd-Falen herself worked in Washington, D.C., for the federal government. For three years she was a bureaucrat at the U.S. Department of the Interior, as special assistant to the assistant secretary for Land and Minerals Management.

Budd-Falen’s advocacy for ignoring federal authority and assuming local control of public lands mirrors the positions of extremists such as Cliven Bundy, the Nevada rancher who refused to pay grazing fees for over 20 years and had a standoff with BLM agents. In fact, Budd-Falen was once Bundy’s lawyer, defending him when he refused to keep his cattle away from endangered species habitat. Budd-Falen has represented grazing and local government interests in several other cases involving public lands and at-risk species.

As director, I swore to uphold the values of the BLM — to serve with “honesty, integrity, accountability, respect, courage, and commitment to make a difference.” I was committed to balance on the landscape and fairness within the agency, and I deeply respected the job, the employees with whom I worked, and our collective mandate to manage public resources for the greater good.

Budd-Falen’s narrow perspective and alignment with fringe interests makes her uniquely unqualified to lead an agency charged with managing multiple uses across a diverse landscape. Our nation’s next BLM director should follow in the footsteps of Gifford Pinchot, Theodore Roosevelt, Governor Cecil Andrus and Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt who all called for managing our public lands for "the greatest good for the greatest number."

I hope that President Trump will continue to search for a candidate who strongly values keeping public lands in public hands for the benefit of all Americans. As the Americans who own these public lands, you deserve as much.

Patrick Shea is a private attorney, research professor of biology and a champion of public lands with extensive government service including director of the Bureau of Land Management and deputy assistant secretary for Land and Minerals at the Department of the Interior. He lives in Salt Lake City, Utah.