The Bureau of Land Management has distributed an unusual new accessory for some of its employees to wear: A card with an image of an oil rig on one side and cattle ranching on the other.
The cards, which feature artwork then-acting director Mike Nedd commissioned after President Trump took office, reflect the bureau’s renewed focus on energy and agricultural development on public lands.
Under the Obama administration, the BLM had promoted recreation and conservation on public lands, but this imagery has receded from the agency’s official messaging over the past year.
On the side with the oil rig, the cards state the agency’s mission is to “sustain the health, diversity, and productivity of the public lands for the use and enjoyment of present and future generations.” On the other side, above two men riding horses with herding dogs and cattle in the background, BLM says its goal is to “improve accountability to our stakeholders, and deliver better service to our customers.”
In an email Thursday, bureau spokeswoman Michelle Barret said “employees have been given vision cards, which the BLM has had off and on over the years.” Wearing the cards, Barret said, is voluntary.
The BLM is a sprawling division of the Interior Department that oversees 245 million acres of public land, mostly in the Western United States and Alaska, where bureau employees often encounter members of the public. Critics of the bureau, particularly in Western states, say it has unduly limited access and development on publicly owned land.
Nedd commissioned artwork last year that would highlight oil and natural gas drilling, mining and grazing on public lands, according to an Interior official who spoke on the condition of anonymity out of fear of retaliation.
The official noted that Neil Kornze, BLM director from 2014 to 2017, had put up posters in the hallways at Interior’s main headquarters to celebrate national monuments on BLM land. Several of those national monument posters have since been removed and replaced with the images Nedd ordered. The new work is “part of an ongoing series that focuses on the BLM’s multiple-use mission,” Barret said, adding the artwork was done in-house.
The advocacy group Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) obtained images of the cards from BLM employees and provided them to The Washington Post, which independently confirmed their distribution.
“These mandatory vision cards are both hokey and disempowering, as they are designed to reduce public servants to walking talking points,” PEER executive director Jeff Ruch said in a statement.
While the BLM said wearing the cards was not mandatory, some employees said they felt pressured to do so.
The manager of at least one BLM office outside Washington gave a verbal “directive” to its workers to wear the cards, according to a BLM employee who also spoke with The Post on the condition of anonymity in order to avoid reprisal.
Ruch said his organization learned of the cards from people at two BLM field offices. “Supervisors gave the orders verbally as they distributed the cards,” Ruch said, “advising that employees must clip them to their lanyards or otherwise display.”
Barret, the BLM spokeswoman, stressed that “no order has been given by the Washington office that employees have to wear these.” If managers or supervisors are telling employees that they must wear these, Barret continued, “they are mistaken.”
The cards appear to fit in with Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s goal to improve the reputation of the bureau out West.
“When you see a BLM truck, the first thing that I would like the public to think about is land management,” Zinke told the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee during a budget hearing Tuesday. “When you see a BLM light go on behind you, I would like the public to think about maybe there’s a lost kid out there [and] not get a ticket on a county road.”
“It’s about public trust,” Zinke said, adding “heavy-handedness has led to a breach of trust, especially out West.”
Two former Obama administration officials — former BLM director Kornze and David J. Hayes, Interior’s deputy secretary in both the Obama and Clinton administrations — both said they were not aware of any similar display cards during their time in office.
“The oil rig says it all,” said Hayes, who has become a frequent critic of Trump’s environmental policies.
Since Trump entered the White House and installed Zinke to head Interior, the BLM has sought to loosen regulations around oil and gas drilling on lands it manages in order to reduce the cost and complexity of domestic energy production.
In December, for example, the bureau said it will suspend a rule meant to limit the leaking of methane, a powerful greenhouse gas, from oil and gas rigs on federal lands.
This is not the first change in BLM’s public image under Trump. In April, the bureau updated its website, which had been redesigned at the end of the Obama administration, to change the main image from a picture of backpackers looking at a scenic bluff to a man gazing at a strip of coal. The current site has a slideshow at the top that features four photos: energy exploration, all-terrain vehicle use, grazing and recreation.