David Blackstun sat on top of a horse.
To his side was one of Moffat County’s most prominent ranchers and in front of him lay the land he depended on — Cold Springs Mountain, South Green River and Vermillion Basin.
The year was 2006 and Blackstun, then associate field manager for the Bureau of Land Management’s Little Snake Field Office, was riding horseback with Wright Dickinson.
At the time, Dickinson’s herd grazing permit was up for renewal and it was important for Blackstun to understand that the rancher’s whole life and success revolved around the change in seasons and rotation of where his herd could graze.
He was there to learn and Dickinson’s livelihood was in his hands, he said.
“As much as anything, those rides with Wright Dickinson were very meaningful,” he said sitting in the BLM’s Craig office. “We looked at elk habitat … sage grouse habitat and we looked at the livestock rotation that went on around there. It really kind of integrated the wildlife issues, the grazing issues and the recreation issues.
“It made it meaningful as to how important my decisions were to influence what he did, how it affected him and his family.”
The moment is something the 57-year-old Blackstun will always remember from his nine-year stint with the Little Snake Field Office and something he plans to take with him on the next leg of his career.
Blackstun’s time with the BLM in Craig, however, ended Friday.
The former Little Snake Field Office acting field manager recently accepted a position with the BLM’s national office in Washington, D.C., as a legislative affairs specialist.
Blackstun, who was born in 1953 in Oceanside, Calif., said he grew up wanting to be a forest ranger. After studying forestry as an undergrad and hydrology in graduate school, Blackstun said he accomplished that.
“I just kind of felt it — it was there,” he said of choosing a career in land management. “So, whatever a forest ranger was, that’s what I became.”
Blackstun has worked for the National Park Service, U.S. Geological Survey, U.S. Forest Service, Army Corps of Engineers and others, but he always came back to the BLM. Blackstun has spent 17 of the 28 years he has worked in the federal government with the BLM.
“The BLM just feels comfortable to me,” he said. “It feels like the right agency for me.”
Blackstun took over as acting field manager of the Little Snake Field Office, which covers Moffat and Routt counties, and part of Rio Blanco County, for about a year.
He replaced previous BLM field manager John Husband and precedes Wendy Reynolds, who will start in mid-March.
Blackstun said he decided not to apply for the field manager position because he would have violated federal nepotism laws considering he works with his wife, Barbara, at the office.
If things were different, he said he would have applied for the position. But, that doesn’t mean he isn’t excited about his new position as a legislative affairs specialist — a position he has always had an interest in.
Blackstun will be one of eight BLM employees charged with managing three aspects of the BLM’s interests in federal legislative issues.
He will help prepare testimony for the BLM and Department of the Interior officials who testify before Congress, review approved legislation and assist Congressional delegations in preparing legislation that affects the BLM.
Blackstun will specifically manage oil, gas and renewable energies in places like Alaska and Wyoming.
Blackstun said he hopes to provide a “reality check” for top BLM officials, many of whom he said don’t have the local land management knowledge he has acquired.
“The BLM has an interest in bringing in people from the field to keep a grounded perspective of what the world is like,” he said. “ How legislation affects people, the ranchers, the oil and gas operators, the outfitters — they have an interest in bringing in people who have an operational foundation, who have a basis in resource management on the ground in the small towns throughout the West.
“They want to bring those people to Washington.”
The issues Blackstun will be in charge of will shape how the BLM makes decisions that could have profound local effects, he said.
His mission while at the Little Snake Field Office, and one he hopes to carry with him, was to try and “cut through the bureaucracy,” he said.
“My goal as a manager here is to not be bureaucratic, but to try and do what is right for the resource and not worry about what the bureaucracy imposes on us,” he said. “I always think that if we do what is right for the resource, we are doing the right thing.”
Along with the mantra of cutting bureaucracy, Blackstun said he wants to bring a philosophy of integrating and balancing land user interests to Washington.
That philosophy is something he distinctly developed during his time in Craig, most notably through the Northwest Colorado Stewardship — which he called “ground-breaking.”
“We had people from the oil and gas industry, from the ranching industry, from the environmental community from the Native American community … all of these people were able to sit down and share and understand what each other were talking about for perhaps one of the first times,” he said of the process that shaped how land will be managed in the area for the next 20 years.
But, for how much Blackstun said he has learned from his time in the Little Snake Field Office and how anxious he is to make changes at the BLM nationally, the move is one filled with anxiety.
It means he will be leaving a place that holds special meaning for him.
From the horses running wild in Sandwash Basin to the sage grouse strutting on their leks north of Craig and archeology and petroglyphs hidden in Irish Canyon, Blackstun said he would deeply miss the area he had the privilege to manage for a period.
But, he has a plan.
He hopes to spend just a few years in Washington, D.C., before returning to Moffat County or another area.
If his path leads back to Northwest Colorado, he said more than anything, he’d like to come back and go riding horses with the Dickinsons again.
“I hope so,” he said. “That’d be nice.”
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