Competing interests ponder BLM change

The appointment of a new head of the Colorado state Bureau of Land Management could have significant implications for industry and environmental organizations.

Helen Hankins, who took over as head of the state office in 2010, will retire at the end of September.

Hankins drew the ire of environmental organizations for refusing to bar leasing in Delta and Gunnison counties. Residents said drilling threatened the organic orchards and farming industry in the area and asked that the land be withdrawn from leasing. Front Range activists also criticized her for her support of hydraulic fracturing for oil and natural gas.

“I’m really hopeful that BLM can restore some of the balance here to the multi-use mandate,” Jim Ramey of Citizens for a Healthy Community said on Tuesday.

More than agricultural economies depend on lands administered by the agency, said David Ludlam, executive director of the Western Slope Oil and Gas Association.

“Economic recovery and the success of local business in the Grand Junction area is directly connected to BLM energy policies,” Ludlam said. “The next state director of the Colorado BLM must understand that livelihoods in northwest Colorado depend on natural gas production from our abundant, energy-rich public lands.”

The next state director must understand “the tie of local communities and diverse public-lands economies,” Delta County Commissioner Doug Atchley said, noting that the commission commended Hankins for her “tireless efforts toward multiple use.”

Hankins’ replacement “faces many challenges, the most important of which is to ensure energy development is carried out responsibly on public lands and our irreplaceable landscapes, water, fish and wildlife habitat are safeguarded,” Sportsmen for Responsible Energy Development said, calling for the agency to fully implement oil and gas leasing reforms announced in 2010.

Hankins’ retirement will begin a year after the retirement of the agency head, Robert Abbey, on Oct. 1, 2012. Since then, the agency has been headed by temporary leaders, most recently Neil Kornze, principal deputy director in Washington, D.C..

President Barack Obama in the meantime appointed Sally Jewell to replace Ken Salazar as secretary of the Interior of which the BLM is one agency.

Hankins also is leaving as the Grand Junction Field Office is working on a 20-year resource management plan and a similar document is being drafted for the McInnis Canyons and Dominguez-Escalante national conservation areas.

Road closures and other travel-management measures have been the focus of criticism, but the issue goes beyond state leadership,  said Brandon Siegfried, who led opposition to travel-management plans.

“It’s my opinion that the local and state BLM directors are merely taking orders from Washington, D.C., while implementing draft resource management plans that are closing 60 to 80 percent of all public motorized access across the western U.S.,” Siegfried said.

A 42-year veteran of the BLM, Hankins served in leadership positions in Alaska, Nevada, Arizona and Colorado.

Hankins worked with the Colorado Youth Corps in 2011 to develop future BLM employees. In 2012, 34 college students from the Youth Corps throughout Colorado were employed by the agency.


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