David Hunsaker - who has been frequently vilified by rural-county officials - has been named Outstanding Public Lands Manager of the Year by the Public Lands Foundation, a Washington-based group made up of retired and current Bureau of Land Management employees who follow public-lands issues.
"I was speechless when I learned about the award," Hunsaker said Friday, sitting in his Kanab office decorated with framed signatures and pictures of two of his heroes: Theodore Roosevelt and Civil War Union Gen. Joshua Chamberlain.
A stuffed trophy head from an antelope he shot in southern Utah juts from one of the walls containing other memorabilia collected from his 34 years working with public-land agencies - 31 of which have been spent with the BLM.
"Those who gave the award have a tremendous amount of experience," said Hunsaker, who oversees the 1.9 million-acre monument in Kane and Garfield counties. "They're all professionals, and it is an honor to be recognized by my peers."
He said the monument is a treasure trove of archaeology and paleontology resources that attract researchers from around the world. Their needs must must be balanced with the BLM's multiple-use philosophy that includes grazing and recreation.
Hunsaker said his office has done a good job in fulfilling the mandates set forth in the proclamation that created the national monument - the first ever placed under the auspices of the BLM - when created by President Clinton in September 1996.
Those requirements include construction of visitor centers that highlight the monument's science, human habitation, and flora and fauna in addition to wildlife, range-management and education programs to share with the public.
From its inception, the monument has been a source of controversy, with Hunsaker a frequent lightning rod. Last year, elected officials from Kane and Garfield counties asked the Interior Department to reassign him, saying he was too "preservation" oriented.
Hunsaker said he understands that communities want more control over decisions made about the monument - including the right to identify and use roads in the area. And he said he is willing to work with the community to satisfy their concerns.
"In the future, I would like to see the monument be the premier science and research site on the Colorado Plateau," said Hunsaker. "I also want to continue to build public support locally and nationally."
George Lea, president of the Public Lands Foundation, said Friday that Hunsaker is being honored for his exemplary handling of the politics surrounding the controversial monument.
"It was forced down the throats of people in Utah, so it takes a lot of courage to do what he has done," said Lea. "He can crawl under the skin of the local folks to understand them and identify what they are afraid of and what their concerns are.
Lea said the award given to Hunsaker is targeted toward accomplishments - rather than performance. "The [BLM] can give awards for that [performance]," said Lea.
He will receive the award Thursday in Washington during a ceremony in the BLM director's office. His name will also be permanently inscribed along with the past 14 recipients on the Hall of Fame Award plaque at BLM headquarters.
"When I heard I was getting the award, I asked if there was a place big enough to hold us all," said Hunsaker, referring to the 65 monument employees he supervises.
"I appreciate all of them. They have done a hell of a job."