BLM chief plans for cooperation - wants staff out on the land instead of in their offices, talking to people
“We’re here to work with the public, obey the law, manage the public lands, and protect the resources of those lands,” said Idaho’s new state BLM director. “With that comes the responsibility to ensure the economic sustainability of communities that depend on those public lands for their livelihood. That’s basically where I’m at.
“We live in Idaho, we work in Idaho, and we want to be part of making Idaho a success,” Bennett said.
A career BLM worker with 40 years of agency experience behind him, including 16 years in Idaho, Bennett knows numerous areas where conditions are far better than when he started with the agency.
“We’re going to look for places where management is a success and tell our story,” he said. “That doesn’t mean there aren’t areas that need attention. We’re going to find them, fine-tune the management and take care of them.
“On the other hand, we’re not going to lock up the resource and watch wildfire burn it up. Fuel management to avoid catastrophic fires is important. Properly managed grazing is one way to do that, but thinning vegetation to protect homes and businesses on the border between public and private lands is another,” he said.
Green stripping – planting strips of fire-resistant native vegetation to break up areas covered with cheatgrass and other fine fuels that burn easily – is another, the director said.
To meet his goals, Bennett plans to bring together those willing to compromise, building on the call for consultation, cooperation, and communication in the service of conservation issued by U.S. Secretary of the Interior Gale Norton.
“The objective is to get everybody to agree on how BLM lands should be managed, and stabilize our program so the goals, objectives and programs don’t change every five years,” Bennett said. “We want to get away from constant contention. The BLM is there to provide information, support and legwork. That’s the direction I’m giving my people.”
Budget constraints are a challenge, he said.
“I officially started my new job on Dec. 2.,” Bennett said. “I haven’t had time to get into the budget yet. We’ll make our case, go with what we get, and get more mileage out of available funds.”
Part of that is to be proactive and prepared. For instance, serious Mormon cricket outbreaks struck Idaho last year. The crop-destroying pests come from public lands. On private lands, tillage practices destroy their eggs.
“The crickets may be worse next summer,” Bennett said. “My staff assures me we’ll have the environmental assessments and other documents in place so we can act when the time comes. I’m going to look at the situation more closely to make sure that is true.”
Invasive species, such as insects and noxious weeds, are the reason some public lands aren’t in as good a shape as they should be. The director said he hopes to correct that.
Bennett’s last BLM position was associate state director in Nevada from May 1991, to November 1993. He left the agency to become a co-owner and manager of Kast C K Cattle Co., in King Hill, Idaho. He left the ranch when it was sold last April.
“I loved the ranch and the lifestyle,” Bennett said. “I would just as soon be there as here. However, I suffered a leg injury that made it difficult for me to do the work any longer. The position of state director opened up in Idaho, and I decided to apply. I’m here now with the support of the people in Idaho. I know where it came from, and I appreciate it.”
Some speculate that most of his support came from the livestock industry. That isn’t the only source. As manager of Idaho’s Shoshone District from September 1983, until May 1991, he worked closely with environmental groups and had a good rapport with them, Bennett said.
“Some have taken a wait-and-see attitude towards my new position,” Bennett said. “I’m not hearing any name calling, like ‘cowboy puppet.’”
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