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New State BLM Director Has Close Ties To Local Officials And Wildlife Managers In Utah

Photo of a man outdoors wearing a hat and holding a small frog
Courtesy of Robin Goodman with the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources
Greg Sheehan served as director of Utah's Division of Wildlife Resources from 2012 to 2017.

A veteran of the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources will take over the state’s Bureau of Land Management next month. Greg Sheehan directed DWR for five years, before Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke tapped him to lead the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in 2017. He left that post a year later, after the Service suggested a rollback of the Endangered Species Act

In his time at DWR, Sheehan worked closely with local officials, according to Garfield County Commissioner Leland Pollock, who supported Sheehan’s appointment to the BLM. 

“He’s been here to my county and held listening sessions with ranchers,” Pollock said. “He was very available to sportsmen as well.” 

Sheehan also helped create a program called Utah’s Watershed Restoration Initiative in his time at DWR. It allows local representatives to suggest projects to state and federal land managers. Those include everything from fire management projects to the dredging of ponds to the removal of natural vegetation for range improvement.

But environmental groups said Sheehan’s tight relationships with local officials could hurt the BLM’s mission to promote a variety of uses on the nearly 22.9 million acres of public lands in Utah.

“I really question whether Sheehan would agree that these are federal public lands owned by all Americans and managed on their behalf,” said Steve Bloch, an attorney with the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance.

A powerpoint shows map color-coded in red and blue with circles around urban areas and natural resources
Credit Screen grab from County Seat Youtube video
Then-DWR Director Greg Sheehan presenting at Utah Farm Bureau conference in 2016.

Bloch pointed to a speech Sheehan made as DWR director to the Utah Farm Bureau in 2016 as proof of his bias against coastal Americans who want a say in public land management. 

“Sheehan led off his presentation in strident and divisive terms,” he said. “He was describing how the blue states and urban areas are ‘takers’ and red states are ‘makers’, and that states such as Utah are doing a lot of work for people who don’t understand public lands.” 

In the past, Sheehan has come under fire for his ties to hunting advocacy groups like the Safari Club and the Sportsmen for Fish and Wildlife. The latter group donated over $1 million to DWR in 2013 and was selected to distribute hunting permits by DWR in 2015 while Sheehan was director, raising questions about favoritism

But DWR Assistant Director Robin Goodman, who worked with Sheehan for over a decade, said he doesn’t favor ranchers, hunters or recreationists. 

“His priority is finding a balance for multiple use of public land,” Goodman said. “All or nothing for one group or another doesn’t work out.” 

Goodman said she’s excited to collaborate with Sheehan on Water Restoration Initiative projects, which often involve partnerships between DWR and federal land managers. 

“It’s exciting to have him back in Utah, where all of his knowledge and experience will benefit our public lands.” 

Sheehan starts work at the BLM office in Salt Lake City Aug. 3. 

Kate Groetzinger is a Report for America corps member who reports from KUER's Southeast Bureau in San Juan County. Follow Kate on Twitter @kgroetzi

Correction 8:31 a.m. MDT, 7/24/20: A previous version of this story misstated Robin Goodman's name.

Kate joined KUER from Austin, Texas. She has a master's degree in journalism from the University of Texas at Austin’s Moody School of Communication. She has been an intern, fellow and reporter at Texas Monthly, the Texas Observer, Quartz, the Texas Standard and Voces, an oral history project. Kate began her public radio career at Austin’s NPR station, KUT, as a part-time reporter. She served as a corps member of Report For America, a public service program that partners with local newsrooms to bring reporters to undercovered areas across the country.
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