Wednesday, October 07, 2009

BLM staff conspired with DC lobbyists on land deal

Caught! BLM's Elena Daly in DC (left).

TUCSON -- In a national update from the New York Times on an issue long-ago covered by this blog, the US Interior Department Inspector General has found that US Bureau of Land Management (BLM) staff in Washington conspired with lobbyists during the final months of the Bush administration.

As an ecologist who formerly worked with BLM, I always supported making the NLCS permanent, but the slimy way it was pushed by some BLM staff and DC-insider lobbyists was wrong.

"Our investigative efforts revealed that communication between NLCS and certain NGOs in these circumstances gave the appearance of federal employees being less than objective and created the potential for conflicts of interest or violations of law," the IG report states. "We also uncovered a general disregard for establishing and maintaining boundaries among the various entities."

A disturbing part of the inappropriate relationship between the bureaucrats and lobbyists was their efforts to remove 7 million acres of Sonoran and Mojave Deserts habitat in the California Desert Conservation Area (CDCA) from the BLM's National Landscape Conservation System (NLCS). This fed-lobbyist anti-conservation push was very likely part of a bad political deal with Interior/BLM political appointees and US Rep. Mary Bono Mack (R-CA).

President Obama's BLM Director Bob Abbey should make sure this doesn't happen again and take a hard look at making sure NLCS has the right leadership.

Director Abbey should personally also investigate California BLM to ensure the CDCA is being managed as NLCS, consistent with the direction of the US Senate. Long-time BLM mismanagement of the scenic and fragile CDCA remains a big problem today.

Not named in the Times article, but in my view also problem lobbyists here are Kevin Mack of the Wilderness Society, who still works with BLM on NLCS issues, and Chris Soderstrom of the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

The offending parties here with BLM and the DC groups should apologize, try to make amends, and focus on working with all conservation interests toward full support of the entire NLCS.

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