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New Utah BLM director picked

May 18, 2010

Judy Fahys And Robert Gehrke
The Salt Lake Tribune

Juan Palma has been picked as the new director of the Bureau of Land Management's Utah office.

Palma, currently the director of the Eastern States Office in Virginia, which covers all of the BLM land in the eastern United States, will replace Selma Sierra, who has led the Utah office for four years. Sierra will take Palma's job in Virgina.

"I am very pleased that Juan and Selma have agreed to serve in these key positions," said BLM Director Bob Abbey. "Both bring with them a wealth of experience and knowledge about the BLM's programs."

Prior to his current assignment, Palma was the manager of the BLM Las Vegas field office and had been district manager for the BLM's Vale District in Oregon.

He was raised in Washington state and attended Brigham Young University and graduated from Oregon State University in business management. He earned a master's degree in environmental sciences from the University of Nevada at Reno.

Sierra announced in an e-mail to BLM employees on Monday that she was leaving the post July 1.

"I leave with a deep sense of accomplishment," said her message, thanking the staff. "Our tasks have been challenging, yet we made great progress in our work on behalf of the public."

Having held positions at the BLM, in the Department of the Interior and on Washington's Capitol Hill, the New Mexico native came to Utah after serving as chief of staff to then Director Kathleen Clarke, Utah's former director of natural resources.

Sierra has overseen the BLM's work in Utah during a controversial period that included conflict over uranium mining, energy leases near Nine Mile Canyon and national parks and monuments, new land-management plans for large swaths of wildlands and the criminal prosecution of lease-sale protester Tim DeChristopher.

Steve Bloch, an attorney for the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, said Sierra's departure was expected.

"She did not and could not represent the kind of change in direction that [Interior] Secretary [Ken] Salazar says he wants," said Bloch, whose conservation group has locked horns repeatedly with Sierra throughout her tenure.

Bloch said that Sierra had put off-road vehicle and energy development above all other uses in the management plans she oversaw for 11 million acres in southern and eastern Utah.

But Sierra also had ardent supporters.

U.S. Sen. Bob Bennett, R-Utah, said he was disappointed about Sierra's departure.

"She has done an outstanding job serving the public with what is undoubtedly one of the toughest jobs in public land management," he said. "Her honest and straightforward approach to managing Utah's public lands will be missed."

Added Lee Peacock, president of the Utah Petroleum Association, "We think Selma has done a really good job considering all the issues she's had to face here."

Rep. Rob Bishop, chairman of the Congressional Western Caucus, said he doesn't personally know Palma but has heard from others that he has a good reputation, works hard and tries to do the right thing.

"I hope that happens because Selma was just amazingly good," Bishop said. "No one has tried to balance the interests better than she has. ... She was fair and hard-working and took her time to make sure it was done right."