Director Jim Caswell Shares His Personal Insights into the Future of the Bureau of Land Management

Jim Caswell, Director of the Bureau of Land Management, addressed the November Recreation Exchange with candor and insight. At his first speech to recreation industry members since his August 2007 U.S. Senate confirmation, Director Caswell shared his plans for the BLM and offered information on the breadth and depth of the agency, which administers nearly 300 million acres at an annual cost of less than $3 per acre.

Mr. Caswell opened his remarks by sharing his “core view” that we must keep our rural communities vibrant. “There is competition between people and wildlife for the best places to live,” Mr. Caswell said. He also told the group that he believes the key to multiple-use success is a partnership between private and public lands.

Mr. Caswell told the Recreation Exchange that, upon joining the agency, he met with BLM’s leadership team and shared his plans for his tenure. Mr. Caswell promised to focus his energy on BLM projects that were in progress rather than on creating new efforts unable to be completed before his departure. He identified the National Landscape Conservation System (NLCS) as a high priority. NLCS includes 800-plus units and 24 million acres of public land and is now the focus of legislation which would institutionalize the program and guarantee multiple use of these lands, which he described a “magnificent public resources.”

Mr. Caswell expressed commitment to updating Resource Management Plans (RMP). He described the updates as well underway, with 40 nearing completion and 40 more in process. He stated that through partnerships, collaboration and public input, resources can be managed and regulations set to ensure the best use of the public lands.

“Take It Outside,” the BLM program to connect the public to rural lands, will also receive the Director’s active support. While BLM has yet to invest significant resources into this program, Mr. Caswell expects to “step up” efforts in partnership with other federal agencies and private-sector partners to expand the public’s understanding of the connection between nature and their daily lives. He also looks forward to connecting today’s youth to the outdoors using technology. “How do you grab your grandkids’ attention, when they are... (mimes playing a Game Boy). I want to hook them into the kinds of experience I had as a kid; as I have as an adult in this job. It’s a big issue,” stated Mr. Caswell.

Finally, Mr. Caswell spoke out on the need for partnerships due to the vast responsibilities of the BLM. Mr. Caswell explained that despite his lifelong career in natural resource management, he had not realized the diversity and complexity of the agency. BLM is the repository of surplus lighthouses and the supplier of one-third of the world’s helium, he noted, as well as the manager of huge land expanses that are used by 60 million visitors annually.

Following Mr.Caswell’s comments, he responded to questions from participants. The cost of federal wildfire fighting was raised as a competitor to other BLM programs, including recreation. Mr. Caswell responded that he cannot foresee a significant reduction in firefighting costs. He noted that he led a federal/state task force on wildland fires which scrutinized over 300 recommendations. He cited residential development within the urban/forest interface, climate changes, and forest fire fuel supplies as main contributors to the fire costs. “We are at the mercy of nature and our own stupidity,” said Mr. Caswell. He said that BLM will share how recommendations are being implemented and the effects of these changes. The Director asserted that BLM and its partners have taken a wiser approach to fighting fires this year and noted such positive developments as insurance companies becoming actively involved in firefighting and risk reduction. He also mentioned that while a strong federal presence in local zoning processes may not be well received, line managers could do a better job of providing guidance on possible costs of development.

Mr. Caswell next fielded a question on the impact of the NLCS bill on the daily management of activities on BLM lands. When asked whether the legislation would be a first step to changing the status of NLCS areas within the federal budget, the Director responded that he did not expect the legislation to bring about management and budget changes, and noted that NLCS areas are an integral part of the total BLM system.

When it was pointed out that partnerships with user groups and state governments were not consistently in place for such programs as OHV management and trails, Mr. Caswell agreed that there was potential in leveraging powerful resources through partnerships with states, counties, recreation businesses and enthusiasts and it should be a priority of the BLM.

The final question asked Mr. Caswell to comment on multiple-year appropriations. He responded that it is an approach to management that should have happened years ago.

Recreation Exchanges are hosted in Washington, D.C. by the American Recreation Coalition 10 times annually, featuring guests who are influencing recreation policy in America. Information on past and future programs is available at:

If you would like to contact Mr. Caswell, he can be reached as follows:

The Honorable James L. Caswell
Bureau of Land Management
1849 C Street, N.W.
MS 5660 MIB
Washington, D.C. 20240
202-208-3801 Fax: 202-208-5242

Recreation Exchanges are made possible by the following sponsors:
American Association for Nude Recreation
American Horse Council
American Motorcyclist Association
American Petroleum Institute
Bureau of Land Management
Bureau of Reclamation
Kampgrounds of America
Motorcycle Industry Council
National Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds
National Marine Manufacturers Association
National Park Service
National Recreation and Park Association
Personal Watercraft Industry Association
Recreation Vehicle Dealers Association
Recreation Vehicle Industry Association
USDA Forest Service
U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service