BLM Firefighter Melody Ahser updating ADM Hal Bybee on the status of a fire in Colorado. (BLM)
BLM Firefighter Melody Ahser updating ADM Hal Bybee on the status of a fire 
in Colorado. (BLM)

The Changing Face of the BLM

By Melissa Dukes

The face of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has, from the beginning, reflected the face of the people who use its public lands.  In 1953, the BLM emblem consisted of profiles of white men from the primary user groups—logging, ranching, oil drilling, mining, and surveying.  Photos from the General Land Office, the Grazing Service, and the early years of the BLM indicate that the emblem accurately reflected the workforce at that time.

The 1960s saw a national conservation movement that impacted all federal land management agencies.  In 1961, the BLM hired its first “lady” forester, Elaine Mosher.  Though forestry had been dominated by “virile, macho-type males,” according to former Montana State Director Edwin Zaidlicz, what Mosher “lacked in size . . . she more than made up for with tenacity, awesome drive, courage and infectious adaptability.”  Mosher changed the face of the BLM by proving that women could perform traditional BLM jobs as effectively as men.

With the passage of the Classification and Multiple Use Act in 1964, BLM’s workforce was expanded to include wildlife, recreation, soil, and water resource specialists to reflect broader responsibilities.  Multiple-use advisory boards were established to better represent the BLM’s many local and regional constituents.  As a result of the act, the BLM hired new types of employees with different ideas about managing public lands.  By the end of the 1960s, the face of the BLM had changed even more.  It now included men and women who, through education and experience, looked at public land management differently. 

The 1970s brought more changes to the BLM.  People from around the country were discovering recreational opportunities on BLM lands—lands that were once the playgrounds of local residents.  A number of critical pieces of legislation were passed, including the Federal Land Policy and Management Act, which provided the framework for BLM’s multiple-use mission.  As a result of the new legislation, the BLM’s workforce grew from 4,300 employees in 1970 to 9,700 employees by 1980. Many of these newly hired employees brought to the BLM diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds as well as diverse expertise.

For example, Danny Charlie, a member of the Navajo Nation, was hired by the BLM in the 1970s in response to the requirements established by the National Environmental Policy Act.  His job was to ensure that the BLM considered the concerns of local Navajos before resource decisions were made and implemented.  Once again, the face of the BLM changed as its mission was expanded.

In the 1980s, Interior Secretary James Watt shifted onshore minerals responsibility from the Minerals Management Service (since named the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement) to the BLM.  With this move, the BLM gained 800 additional employees, including petroleum engineers, geologists, land law examiners, and petroleum engineering technicians.  These new employees brought a different focus and a different client base, including major national and international energy companies, to BLM’s workforce. 

In the 1990s, BLM managers recognized that additional efforts were needed to ensure the face of the BLM reflected the face of the people for whom the public lands are managed.  Since the people who used and cared about the public lands came from around the country, so should the BLM workforce.  Managers worked with land grant colleges and universities, associations, and user groups from around the country to encourage their students and members to apply for jobs in the BLM.

During the 2000s, recreational use of the public lands continued to grow, wildfires increased in size and frequency, and interest in domestic and renewable energy resources intensified.  The Energy Policy Act of 2005 increased the number of employees responsible for onshore minerals activity as it expanded BLM’s responsibilities in this area. 

Erika Miller is one of several people from diverse backgrounds hired in response to the Energy Policy Act.  Originally from Illinois, Miller, who is half Hungarian and half African-American, graduated from Illinois State University and then joined the United States Army.  She fell in love with recreating on public lands in Colorado while stationed at Fort Carson.  After a tour in Iraq, and soon after getting out of the Army, Miller was hired by the BLM in 2007 as a petroleum engineering technician, conducting field inspections on oil and gas wells and helping fight wildfires during the busy summer season. 

Today, the BLM’s 10,500 employees come from around the country.  The men and women of the BLM reflect ALL citizens of the United States—be they White, Black, Asian-American/Pacific Islander, American Indian/Alaskan Native, or Hispanic.

Melissa Dukes is currently the human resources officer for the Colorado State Office, a position she has held since 2001.  Prior to joining the BLM in 1993, Melissa worked for the Department of the Navy for 16 years in California, Washington, and Louisiana.