As Utah state Rep. Mike Noel actively courts support for his bid to become the next director of the Bureau of Land Management, conservation and outdoor business interests are questioning the Kanab lawmaker’s ability to effectively run an agency he has relentlessly condemned since quitting it 20 years ago.
“The BLM manages some of the America’s most spectacular and iconic landscapes, landscapes that are integral to outdoor recreation, sportsmen, biodiversity, and native Americans’ and America’s high quality of life,” said Black Diamond Equipment founder Peter Metcalf. “We need a BLM leader aligned with this mission, one who recognizes the role these well-stewarded landscapes play in the vibrancy of one of America’s most important and sustainable economic sector.”
“Mike Noel,” Metcalf said, “is the opposite.”
The retired CEO joined 15 other Utah business leaders and conservationists in penning a letter to the Trump administration opposing Noel’s possible selection as BLM director.
An influential Republican, Noel has staked his political career on challenging federal land management and sparring with environmentalists and Salt Lake Democrats over limiting resource extraction to protect Utah’s striking red rock landscapes, wildlife, rivers and archaeological resources. Noel believes such limits do more to harm the land than protect it and suck the life out of rural communities that traditionally rely on access to forage, timber and minerals.
Noel did not respond to a request for comment.
Several Utah agencies and political leaders. meanwhile, have eagerly lined up behind his BLM candidacy.
The Utah School and Institutional Trust Lands Administration also sent a letter to the Trump transition team calling Noel an “excellent choice.” Most of SITLA’s 3.2 million acres are 640-acre islands scattered in a sea of federal lands. BLM policies complicate SITLA’s efforts to generate revenue off these isolated sections, according to the Nov. 18 letter signed by trust lands board Chairman James Lekas.
“We look forward to working with a Department of Interior led by people who can change the direction of public lands management back toward BLM’s traditional multiple use mandate,” Lekas wrote. “Rep. Noel would be a great addition to that team.”
If Noel has his druthers, the BLM would no longer exist as an agency, at least in Utah, where he is leading the state’s charge to seize title to 31 million acres of public land — most of it administered by BLM.
But worse from environmentalists’ perspective is Noel’s unwillingness to engage with stakeholders who disagree with his notion of “multiple use.”
In recent years, Noel has promoted the ideas that law enforcement on pubic lands should be overseen by county sheriffs; Utah should invest millions of dollars in a lawsuit to take title to the lands owned by all Americans; grazing and energy extraction are the best uses of places that others value for scenery and ancient American Indian artifacts; the state should cover legal costs of county commissioners who get in trouble standing up to federal authority on behalf of their constituents.
“Rep. Noel has also demonstrated his disregard for the thoughtfully and collaboratively crafted management plans of the Bureau he hopes to direct, instead throwing his support behind illegal protests on BLM land and the extraction companies that hope to expand their activities on public lands to the detriment of the protection and other uses of those lands,” states the conservationists’ letter, sent Wednesday by Alliance for a Better Utah to Vice President Mike Pence and Interior Secretary-designate Ryan Zinke. “His history strongly suggests that he will not be a good steward over these public lands that all Americans use and enjoy.”
Noel, who runs a ranch and the Kane County Water Conservancy District, worked as a realty specialist in BLM’s Kanab field office before leaving after the 1996 designation of the Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument. A former colleague in the Kanab office contends Noel is the wrong person to lead BLM because of “his disdain for federal government management and his personal and biased agenda.”
“The next BLM director will need to ensure the BLM mission to provide enduring values and uses of those lands is sustained. Noel does not have that vision and is not that leader,” wrote Verlin Smith, now retired and living in Murray, in a letter to the editor.
Noel has since become a leading extremist in the movement to blunt conservation prerogatives on public lands, according to Metcalf, and in the process has earned a reputation as a dogmatic bully.
“This intransigent nature would hamper Rep. Noel in performing the duties that come with being BLM director, which include balancing all of the competing needs and uses that arise in managing our vast public lands,” the letter states.
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