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Robert Abbey

Obama pick for BLM director gets positive, negative reaction

WASHINGTON D.C. • President Barack Obama’s proposed nomination for the position of Bureau of Land Management director has generated mixed reactions from some of the folks who use the 3.2 million acres of public land surrounding Barstow.

Obama announced his intention to nominate Robert Abbey, former Nevada State Director for the bureau, for the position of BLM director June 9. Frank Quimby, public information officer for the Secretary of the Interior, said if Obama does nominate Abbey, his appointment to the director position would await a Senate confirmation hearing.

BLM land use in Barstow can include off-road vehicle use, ranching, mining and for renewable energy sites, said Roxie Trost, field manager for the Barstow office. About 500,000 acres of BLM land in the area is used for wilderness.

Tom Gorey, BLM spokesman, said Abbey’s priorities as bureau director would be to continue to pursue alternative sources of energy such as solar, geothermal and wind power. Abbey will also focus on working with organizations such as energy companies, the outdoor recreation industry and ranchers.

“We’ll continue to concentrate on (forming) new relationships with stakeholders,” he said. “Public lands do belong to all Americans and we’ll continue to focus on that.”

Gorey said with Abbey as BLM director, he thinks an effort will be made to accommodate all different user groups, including the off-road vehicle community, while making sure things like endangered species are protected.

Despite BLM’s focus to form and maintain relationships with public land users, some off-roaders are concerned that their needs aren’t being met. Dave Cheney, who has scaled hills and valleys from Johnson Valley to Stoddard Wells for the better part of 45 years, said it’s a challenge to find trails he and other off-roaders can ride on.

“(When) you restrict people, it causes overuse in areas that are open,” he said, adding that he heard about Obama’s proposed nomination through the BlueRibbon Coalition, a nonprofit group that promotes responsible recreation on public lands. “(Environmentalists) are really clamping down on riding areas.”

County Supervisor Brad Mitzelfelt said he is involved in a myriad of issues with the BLM as the county’s largest owner of public land. Although he hasn’t met Abbey, Mitzelfelt said he has heard good things about him.

“It’s critical that the leadership at the bureau is willing to work with local governments,” he said. “I’ve been told that he’s fair minded and he has a good resource background so I look forward to having access to his office when appropriate.”

Representatives of the alternative energy industry, including Stirling Energy Systems, which plans to build a 850 megawatt solar plant 37 miles east of Barstow, think differently. Sean Gallagher, vice president of marketing strategy and regulatory affairs for Stirling, said his company understands that Abbey has good credentials when it comes to alternative energy.

“He’s likely to be supportive of renewable energy initiatives on BLM land,” he said. “Our impression is that (he) is a good choice.”

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