Photo of BLM fisheries biologists holding a fish.
Due to the court orders, employees in many new specialties--such as fisheries biology--were hired into the BLM workforce. (BLM)

The Transforming Effect of the Natural Resources Defense Council Consent Decree

By D. Dean Bibles

One of the major transformations in the BLM’s history occurred when the agency lost a court case concerning environmental impact statements (EISs) and livestock grazing (Natural Resources Defense Council v. Morton).  The BLM had prepared a single programmatic EIS on grazing nationwide to comply with the National Environmental Policy Act.  The agency was sued by the Natural Resources Defense Council in 1974, and the court subsequently ordered that 212 separate EISs be prepared at the field level; this was later reduced to 144 EISs in Natural Resources Defense Council v. Andrus.

Due to the court-ordered documentation of the resources necessary to complete adequate EISs, employees in many new specialties were hired into the BLM workforce.  At that time, I was the district manager in Boise, Idaho, where we hired about 45 new employees in fields for which we had not hired employees in any real numbers in the past.  We hired fishery and avian biologists, archaeologists, sociologists, information technology specialists, geologists (other than those connected to leasing), and numerous others.

Many of these employees were hired into “When Actually Employed” positions (temporary or intermittent appointments) but were converted to permanent positions as soon as possible.  As these individuals gained experience, they moved into higher level positions and changed the demographics of the BLM forever.  A few years later, when I was the state director for Oregon/Washington, we had 198 different specialties on our staff!

There was little way to anticipate the massive positive change that came about because of this court case and its settlement—it occurred through a breathtakingly rapid process.  But once the consent decree was implemented, people were in place to help the BLM fully manage public lands under the Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976.

Dean Bibles retired from the BLM after serving as the state director in Oregon/Washington and Arizona, the assistant director for land resources in Washington, DC, and the district manager in Montana, northern California/Nevada, and Idaho.  He received Presidential Distinguished Executive Awards from Presidents Reagan and Clinton and the Presidential Meritorious Service Award from President George H.W. Bush.  Dean remains active in international conservation efforts.