Mar 5, 2021 | NEWS | By Evan Rao | Illustration by Xixi Qin

Nada Culver, an environmental attorney from Denver, Colo., has been selected as the short-term head of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). If confirmed by the Senate, she will direct the agency until President Joe Biden chooses a permanent director.

The BLM put out an announcement saying Culver’s addition adds to a team which “proudly reflects the diversity of America.” Ed Shepard, president of the Public Lands Foundation, which has a number of former BLM employees, stated that “[Culver] knows BLM programs, so she should have a relatively short learning curve.”

Culver has a wide range of experience qualifying her for the position. She started her career working as an attorney at the law firm Squire Patton Boggs, a large and well-respected organization with over 1,000 employees. She then moved on to become the senior director for the Wilderness Society, an American nonprofit dedicated to land conservation and protection, specializing in the designation of federal lands as protected areas.

Most recently, she served as the vice president of public lands and senior policy council at the National Audubon Society, the foremost organization for protecting birds and habitats critical for their wellbeing. At Audubon, she worked specifically toward strengthening their public lands program, defending the Endangered Species Act and National Environmental Policy Act from an aggressive campaign of deregulation headed by the Trump Administration.

Speaking on Culver’s achievements at the nonprofit, Audubon’s senior vice president of conservation policy Sarah Greenberger said they “couldn’t be luckier to have an advocate of Nada’s talent, tenacity, and creativity to protect these places birds and people need now and for future generations.”

Coloradans may most directly associate Culver as a key player in the greater sage-grouse debate. The greater sage-grouse is a threatened bird species found in the northwest corner of Colorado and is often called the most controversial bird in the west. The reason for this is that many have been pushing for a listing for the greater sage-grouse under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), which would give it a much wider range of protections and make the penalty for harming its habitat far steeper.

Ranchers and those in the energy industry generally oppose a listing under the ESA, as it would hurt their financial prospects in the region. Environmentalists, on the other hand, see it as essential for preserving sage-grouse populations. The fact that Culver played such a huge role in working to conserve the bird may have some energy-minded Coloradans worried about her plans at the BLM.

Culver will succeed former BLM director William Pendley Perry, who managed to spend most of his term in intense controversy. Perry was a Trump appointee with deep ties to the energy industry. He also expressed disdain for the Black Lives Matter movement, immigrants, non-Christian faiths, and the LGBTQ community in numerous op-eds. Additionally, a federal court ruled in 2020 that Perry was serving illegally as the director of the BLM, as he avoided confirmation hearings in order to extend his term. Needless to say, Culver is quite a departure from her predecessor.

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