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Obama picks Babbitt aide to run BLM

Published June 10, 2009 7:47 am

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2009, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Bob Abbey, who helped former Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt complete a Utah wilderness inventory 10 years ago, is President Barack Obama's nominee to head up the U.S. Bureau of Land Management.

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar announced the nomination Tuesday evening, calling Abbey a "consummate, professional natural-resource manager."

Abbey has more than 32 years in state and federal public service, including eight years at the helm of the Nevada state BLM office until his retirement in 2005.

Early reactions indicated general approval of Abbey's nomination from conservationists, off-roaders and oil and gas officials.

"I think he'd be a good director," said Brian Hawthorne, public-lands policy director for the BlueRibbon Coalition, an OHV interest group. "He seemed to be well-liked by the [BLM] line officers and staff."

Heidi McIntosh, an attorney and conservation director for the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, said Abbey was known as "a good guy" and not ideological in any direction.

"He's willing to listen. I think he's a good choice," McIntosh said.

If the Senate confirms Abbey, she said, he ought to restore a balance to managing public lands after the Bush administration's eight years of focusing on oil and gas development.

Lee Peacock, president of the Utah Petroleum Association, said his group hadn't had direct contact with Abbey but expected he would be a good BLM boss.

"He's had a very long and distinguished career with BLM," Peacock said. "As an industry, we look forward to working with him."

Abbey long has supported sharing access on BLM lands, especially when it comes to mining and oil and gas development.

In 2007 testimony before the House Committee on Natural Resources, he said he favored treating public lands as more than just commodity-production sites.

"I am a firm believer in BLM's multiple-use mandate," he testified, "and I believe that appropriate public lands, not all public lands, should continue to be accessible for mineral extraction."

That's a goal Hawthorne and McIntosh share -- if from different vantage points.

"There's been a war on multiple use," Hawthorne said. "It's past time we brought the focus onto recreation on public land. The [new] director can really move this along, especially after eight years of oil and gas."