New BLM director needs New Mexico values

January 7, 2018 GMT

In New Mexico, 65 percent of residents participate in some type of outdoor recreation activity, and more than twice as many jobs in our state depend on outdoor recreation than the energy and mining sectors combined, according to a July 2017 report from the Outdoor Industry Association. The variety of activities that New Mexicans pursue outdoors mostly take place on public lands.

Approximately 13 million acres of those public lands in New Mexico are administered by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management. Its stewardship and management of multiple-use activities have a big impact on our state. Thus, the BLM national director can have a big impact on New Mexicans enjoyment of our public lands and on our state’s economy.

Currently, the agency’s national director position is vacant. While we await President Donald Trump’s nomination for the agency’s new leader, it’s an important window to discuss how the BLM intersects with our outdoor recreation economy, of which our businesses are a part.

Most Bureau of Land Management-managed public lands in New Mexico are open for recreational use, and a deep respect for our land is an ingrained New Mexico value. We see it nearly every day. Camping, hunting, hiking, mountain biking, boating, off-roading — it’s all possible in New Mexico.

That could all change with a BLM director who isn’t friendly to the values of most New Mexicans. Whoever is tapped to run the BLM needs to be open to exploring how to balance all types of land use, including outdoor recreation. Our public lands are a huge driver of our multibillion-dollar tourism and outdoor recreation economic sectors.

The next BLM director could limit small businesses such as mine by overemphasizing energy development, mining and other development. Or they could help us capitalize on our growing outdoor economy by partnering with the dedicated New Mexicans who understand the value in protecting our outdoor heritage for future generations.

In October, U.S. Secretary of Interior Ryan Zinke named an interim BLM director who should raise eyebrows. Previously, Brian Steed was the chief of staff for a Utah congressman who founded the Federal Land Action Group, a congressional caucus with the intended purpose of, among other things, taking public lands away from the federal government. That means that Zinke’s choice for one of the highest-ranking BLM positions fundamentally doesn’t believe in maintaining these lands in the public trust.

What does Zinke’s choice for BLM deputy director portend for the agency? The one name floated as a top candidate for the BLM director position, Karen Budd-Falen, is unsettling. Budd-Falen is a Wyoming-based attorney who has represented clients who have sued or taken other action against the BLM and its employees for doing their jobs. Remember Cliven Bundy, the scofflaw who refuses to pay federal grazing fees and led an armed revolt in 2014 against BLM employees trying to enforce court orders? Budd-Falen has provided legal representation to Bundy and is sympathetic to his lawlessness.

My business, my family and my employees depend on the outdoor recreation economy, which depends on thoughtful, balanced leadership at the Department of the Interior and the Bureau of Land Management. As New Mexicans, our culture and heritage are tied to the land, and I’m proud to be continuing that heritage through my work. We need for the next BLM director to be someone aligned to our New Mexico values, who has demonstrated an ability to work with local stakeholders to realize the mission of the BLM — to sustain the health, diversity and productivity of America’s public lands for the multiple use and enjoyment of current and future generations.

Katie Macaulay is the founder and director of Mountain Kids! and feels strongly about the need to connect kids with nature, not screens.