BLM Director Steps Down After Disputes With Western Officials


Jim Baca, the Clinton Administration’s embattled Bureau of Land Management director, resigned under pressure Thursday after angering a host of Western legislators and governors with his efforts to reform the management of public lands.

Baca’s departure is the first sign of open dissension between the Administration and environmentalists over how aggressively to press for change in the use of public lands by miners, ranchers and the timber industry. It came after three governors--Colorado’s Roy Romer, Wyoming’s Mike Sullivan and Idaho’s Cecil D. Andrus--sought Baca’s removal.

Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt made clear that Baca, a favorite of environmentalists for his views on land reform, has been too confrontational. But Babbitt vowed that Baca’s resignation would not blunt the Administration’s drive for land-use reform.


“Jim and I have different approaches to management style and consensus building,” Babbitt said Thursday. “The management styles of the department’s bureau directors need to mesh. They need to work with me.”

One Administration official said Baca had an “in-your-face” style that made him a “lightning rod” for controversy and distracted from Babbitt’s efforts to gain cooperation from traditional opponents to land-use reform.

The 11,800-person Bureau of Land Management--part of the Department of the Interior--oversees 270 million acres of public lands located primarily in Western states and supervises mineral leasing and mining on an additional 300 million acres.

Baca’s forced resignation stunned and angered environmentalists and drew sharp words from some of the Administration’s most ardent environmental allies on Capitol Hill.

Rep. George Miller (D-Martinez) said Baca “had the unenviable job of dragging a lot of privileged, pampered and powerful interests kicking and screaming into the 20th Century.”

Miller added that the Administration “carries a very heavy burden” to demonstrate it is not backing away from an ambitious agenda of reform just because it has met resistance.


“We think this is a dreadful mistake,” said Deborah Seas of the Sierra Club. “It’s going to send a chilling message to every political appointee. It says if you make waves, your head is going to roll.”

Those who had wrangled with Baca welcomed his departure. Sen. Conrad Burns (R-Mont.), who has clashed with the Administration over grazing reform, said Baca “seemed to be out of step with Western values and that has been a problem.”

Sources said Baca may be replaced by Ken Salazar, who resigned Thursday from his post as director of Colorado’s Department of Natural Resources.

Political appointees at the Interior Department, who are overwhelmingly drawn from the ranks of environmental activists, were described as “stunned and stony-faced” in a meeting with Babbitt on Thursday.

Baca had been offered another job in the Interior Department--deputy assistant secretary for land management and minerals--but declined.

Before joining the Administration, Baca had been state land commissioner in New Mexico and was co-chairman of the President Clinton’s 1992 campaign in that state.