Wyo has new BLM directorWritten by Jennifer Womack
“I go back to about the time the British were coming,” laughs Simpson of his time with the BLM that began in 1975 with seasonal work as a firefighter. He is a graduate of Colorado State University’s forestry program. After being stationed in various western offices Simpson spent a stint in D.C. before returning west to Wyoming about a decade ago to serve as the Deputy State Director for Resources.
Simpson’s arrival in the top Wyoming job comes in unison with several issues of great importance to those ranchers who graze livestock on BLM lands. Feral horses, in areas of the state where they are present, are a top concern given recent BLM and legislative actions.
“That’s our goal,” said Simpson when asked if feral horse populations in the state are going to be kept at Acceptable Management Levels (AML). “Right now we have a good commitment that this fall we’ll be doing gathers in a couple of areas around Lander. It’s always a trick with budgets and what we do with the horses once we gather them,” said Simpson.
With Alan Shepherd leaving the state’s wild horse position, Simpson said he hopes to have that position and the state range conservationist position filled by fall. Jim Cagney, formerly the state range con, has accepted the position as director of the Lander Field Office of BLM.
Like much of the state, Simpson said BLM is seeing an increased interest in the construction of wind turbines and the associated transmission lines. “Right now I believe we have just over 100 applications for testing, which means they want to put up meteorological towers and test wind speeds.” Simpson said about one-third of the applications have passed the approval process.
With project applications beginning to arrive, such as one for a 1,000-turbine project near Rawlins, Simpson said BLM in Wyoming is forming a renewable energy employee group. With positions located primarily in Rawlins, Simpson said a portion of the biologists, archaeologists, realty people and project managers will also be positioned in Rock Springs and in Cheyenne where they can coordinate with the Governor’s state-level efforts.
“It’s an issue we need to look at,” said Simpson when asked about the timeline on which permit holders in areas to be developed are notified. On the Gateway West project specifically he said the agency is looking for ways to back the process up and gather additional public input. They’ll also be considering alternative routes.
When it comes to sage grouse Simpson said his agency has a representative on the Governor’s sage grouse team and is now part of the effort to map grouse habitat and model the bird’s life cycle.
“Right now we as an agency are part of a team including the Wyoming Department of Agriculture, the Wyoming Stock Growers and others to develop best management practices for grazing,” said Simpson. “We want practical management practices that protect the bird and the habitat, but that are reasonable for our operators.”
Wyoming agriculture’s largest challenge may be the same as BLM’s largest challenge — the onslaught of challenges from groups that oppose domestic livestock grazing on federal lands. “We need to make sure we have the data to show that what we’re doing is appropriate,” said Simpson. He said cooperative monitoring efforts need to be “stepped up.”
Simpson said, “I look forward to a lot of good years working with the agricultural folks. I know quite a few from the past and hope we maintain a great working relationship with the conservation districts, the Wyoming Stock Growers and all the folks who are out there getting the work done on the ground. We’ll be working to enhance those partnerships.”