Melanie Barnes, Bureau of Land Management New Mexico state director (Courtesy of BLM)

Copyright © 2022 Albuquerque Journal

Melanie Barnes first interacted with the Bureau of Land Management 18 years ago as a University of New Mexico graduate student researching restoration ecology.

In May, Barnes stepped into the role of BLM New Mexico state director.

She said “it’s an honor” to manage public land for people and wildlife.

“When I worked on rare plants, I learned that the number one reason that species are endangered or rare is because of habitat loss,” she said. “I really wanted to get on the other side of that 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, and endangered species from energy development.

In southeast New Mexico’s lesser prairie chicken habitat, the BLM limits when drill rigs can operate during the rare bird’s mating season.

Barnes said she’s also proud of the work to boost renewable energy on public lands.

“We’re seeing big increases in solar project applications in our Las Cruces office, and wind energy 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.

That campaign trains volunteers to monitor archaeological sites.

BLM national director Tracey Stone-Manning said such leaders as Barnes are important as the agency “continue(s) to rebuild.”

“Her natural resources and land management experience and 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, D.C., to Grand Junction, Colorado, under the previous administration.

Of the 328 positions moved, only three BLM employees relocated to Grand Junction.

The current Interior Department said the upheaval led to a “significant loss of institutional memory and talent.”

The agency plans to keep the Colorado office as a Western bureau headquarters, but also wants to restore the D.C. national offices.