BLM New Mexico has a new state manager
Copyright © 2022 Albuquerque Journal
Melanie Barnes first interacted with the Bureau of Land Management 18 years ago as a graduate student at the University of New Mexico researching restoration ecology.
In May, Barnes stepped into the role of state director of the BLM in New Mexico.
She said it’s “an honor” to steward public lands for people and wildlife.
“When I worked on rare plants, I learned that the main reason species become endangered or rare is habitat loss,” she said. “I really wanted to get to the other side of this habitat equation, which is land management.”
Barnes will oversee 800 employees, 13.5 million acres of public lands and 42 million acres of federal minerals.
The federal agency’s New Mexico office also regulates land in Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas.
Barnes has held various positions with the BLM in New Mexico since 2007 and has been acting state director since June.
The agency’s four-state region generated $22.5 billion in economic output in 2020, much of it funded by oil and gas leasing.
The BLM studies how to protect land and water, as well as endangered species from energy development.
In the habitat of the small prairie chicken in southeastern New Mexico, the BLM limits when drills can operate during the breeding season for rare birds.
Barnes said she’s also proud of the work to boost renewable energy on public lands.
“We are seeing a strong increase in solar project applications in our Las Cruces office and wind power applications in our Roswell office,” Barnes said.
State officials want to preserve cultural landscapes as outdoor recreation visits increase.
The New Mexico agency is considering adopting an initiative similar to Utah’s “Respect and Protect” program.
This campaign trains volunteers to monitor archaeological sites.
BLM National Director Tracey Stone-Manning said leaders such as Barnes are important as the agency “continues to rebuild.”
“His experience in natural resources and land management and his deep understanding of New Mexico will benefit the communities and constituents we serve,” Stone-Manning said in a statement.
The federal agency’s headquarters moved from Washington, DC, to Grand Junction, Colorado, under the previous administration.
Of the 328 positions moved, only three BLM employees moved to Grand Junction.
The current Home Office said the upheaval had resulted in a “significant loss of institutional memory and talent”.
The agency plans to retain the Colorado office as the western office headquarters, but also wants to restore the DC national offices.