Photo: Billboard gives thanks -- and advice -- to embattled BLM director

When you're a bureaucrat under fire, accused of being a tool of Big Oil, there's nothing like a big, wet kiss from your critics to let you know you're being watched -- closely. Particularly if that greeting takes the form of a giant billboard on I-70 in Golden, not far from the Bureau of Land Management office where Colorado director Helen Hankins ponders oil and gas leases on public lands and other weighty matters.

Hankins has been at the center of several hot-button environmental battles across the state in recent months over BLM plans to open up sensitive areas to oil and gas drilling, including areas in the scenic North Fork Valley as well as parcels near Mesa Verde National Park and Dinosaur National Monument. In each instance, she's delayed decisions on the sales at the eleventh hour, after protests poured in from former park service employees, organic farmers and tourism interests in the North Fork Valley, and others.

Hankins's change of course on the park proposals prompted Environment Colorado to hire a billboard near her office to offer this message, with a scene of Mesa Verde in the background:

In a statement released by the organization, former Dinosaur superintendent Denny Huffman -- who had previously blasted BLM's plans as "heavily influenced by the oil and gas industry" -- praised the director's latest swerve: "I can't think of a better way to ruin a national park experience than by putting a drill rig next to the visitor center.... Director Hankins should be applauded for taking a step back."

Huffman and Environment Colorado are calling on Hankins to pursue a "smart from the start comprehensive strategy for energy development on public lands" -- and, by the by, reminding folks that the state BLM's office is basing its leasing proposals on resource management plans done thirty years ago. Moreover, it has yet to implement reforms put forth by the Obama administration to seek more community involvement in such decisions.

In other words, the big thank you is also kind of a big Three Stooges nose-pull and eye-poke. No word yet if Hankins intends to take out a billboard to thank the group for its enormous gratitude.

More from our Environment archive: "Drilling at Mesa Verde and Dinosaur National Monument: BLM boss backpedals after protests."

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Alan Prendergast has been writing for Westword for over thirty years. He teaches journalism at Colorado College; his stories about the justice system, historic crimes, high-security prisons and death by misadventure have won numerous awards and appeared in a wide range of magazines and anthologies.
Contact: Alan Prendergast