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Re: BLM Linda Hansen

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September 14, 2003 02:25PM
Desert land chief walks fine line

CONTENTION: She must strike a balance between protectionist interests and usage interests.

12:21 AM PDT on Saturday, September 13, 2003

By JENNIFER BOWLES / The Press-Enterprise

Linda Hansen grew up in the California desert, grabbing wood slabs and surfing down the crystalline hills of the Algodones Dunes near the Mexican border.

"You'd grab a hold and just stand on it," she recalled of her youthful pastime.

Now, as the first woman to head the California Desert District for the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, she's in the middle of a contentious battle over those dunes.

Greg Vojtko/The Press-Enterprise

Linda Hansen, who heads the California Desert District for the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, has been doing the job for a year. She is the first woman to head the district.

Known as the Imperial Sand Dunes Recreation Area, the BLM-managed outpost has become a legal battleground for off-roaders passionate about riding the picturesque hills and environmentalists seeking to ban riders from areas where a rare plant lives.

"It's certainly one of the most hotly contested areas," Hansen said. "There's a variety of ways to recreate. Not everyone wants to be in a sand buggy."

Hansen, a Riverside resident, starts her second year in the job today. In the past 12 months, she has been at the fulcrum of mounting pressure on the desert, not only from off-roaders and environmentalists but also from new housing pushing farther into the scrub and Joshua trees.

"Clearly, the Southern California BLM's responsibility is the most complex and the most challenging in all of BLM, no doubt about it," said Mike Pool, California director for the agency, who selected Hansen from several applicants.

From its Moreno Valley headquarters, the Desert District oversees 11.5 million acres, a patchwork of public lands from the Mexican border to the Sierra foothills through much of Riverside and San Bernardino counties.

Power lines, animals on the brink of extinction, fire protection, invasive plants, wilderness areas, cattle grazing, back roads and law enforcement are just a few of the issues the federal land agency must tackle.

"There's not a day that doesn't have some challenges," Hansen said. "There's a lot to learn in the desert and a lot to remember."

Working her way up

Hansen began her career at the BLM nearly 26 years ago by chance. She was looking for a federal job after moving to Carson City, Nev. The BLM had an opening for a receptionist.

"I've always looked at that as a real fortuitous turn of events for me, because I've loved working for this agency," she said, noting her love for nature and the outdoors.

Now a grandmother of three, Hansen's path in the BLM involved her in recreation, wilderness and planning efforts. In 1991, she landed a field manager position in the agency's Eagle Lake office in Susanville in northeast California.

Pool said Hansen's maturity and confidence made her a prime candidate for a tough job.

Her steady hand hasn't gone unnoticed in the often-heated discussions that can erupt during meetings of the Desert District Advisory Council, a male-dominated panel of 15 desert users appointed by the Bush administration to advise Hansen.

"When she is being blasted by all sides, she stays very calm, very clear, very focused," said Vicki Warren of Corona, a dunes enthusiast who attends the meetings. "She doesn't react to the attacks. She handles the business at hand and moves on."

Challenging land

Feuds over the desert, with its vast amounts of public land, are becoming more heated and more political.

Hansen's predecessor, Tim Salt, was abruptly reassigned under the Bush administration after he negotiated a deal that curbed cattle grazing, mining and off-roading to protect endangered species.

Hansen concedes that the tone in Washington, D.C., affects the desert and the rest of the nation's public lands.

"Under the previous administration, we ended up with a lot of protective plans and measures," she said. "Under the current administration, of course, their focus has been very much on the multiple-use mandate."

Under Hansen, the BLM has made some tough calls on the Imperial Sand Dunes that she said are meant to bring some balance. The agency reopened vast stretches of dunes once closed to protect the Pierson's milk-vetch. A four-year study of the threatened plant will determine if future closures are justified. Drawing some off-roaders' ire, the BLM recently tripled the cost of seasonal dune passes to help pay for law enforcement and other services in the heavily visited area.

In the past few years, the agency has had to bring in law enforcement rangers from across the West to deal with what Hansen described as "wild and woolly" behavior by some of the off-roaders.

"It's a new avenue for the BLM to talk about people management, because we've always been in the resource management arena," Hansen said.

The dunes are only one issue drawing fire in BLM territory.

Several land-use plans, years in the making, are coming to fruition under Hansen's tenure. The intent is to protect endangered species while allowing other uses of the desert. Many observers predict a flurry of lawsuits.

"She has an impossible task," said Ron Kemper of Highland, who runs a cattle operation on a BLM lease in the Mojave.

Off-roading advocate Roy Denner said the plans' goals are far too costly to implement.

"There's only one action they can take without funding and that's called closures," said Denner, who runs the San Diego-based Off-road Business Association.

Environmentalists say the plans don't go far enough in protecting the desert tortoise.

"They're the pits," said Elden Hughes, chair of the Sierra Club's California-Nevada desert committee.

Hansen said the plans strike a compromise and offer a snapshot of the future. Lawsuits or not, she said, the plans should proceed.

"Obviously we don't want to spend all of our time in court. It's not a good way to spend tax dollars," she said. After all these years spent on developing the plans, she said, "we can't let litigation be a reason for not moving ahead."

Reach Jennifer Bowles at (909) 368-9548 or jbowles@pe.com


BLM Linda Hansen

katrina island 928September 13, 2003 01:09PM

Re: BLM Linda Hansen

mojavegreen 490September 13, 2003 08:17PM

Re: BLM Linda Hansen

katrina island 1102September 14, 2003 02:25PM

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