New acting deputy director eased tensions with Nev. ranchers

John Ruhs, who as director of the Bureau of Land Management’s Nevada state office drew widespread praise for helping defuse tensions between the agency and ranchers following the Cliven Bundy standoff three years ago, has been appointed BLM’s acting deputy director of operations.

Ruhs will replace Jerry Perez, who at the end of next month will return to California to resume his duties as state director, Mike Nedd, BLM’s acting director, said in an email sent yesterday to members of the agency’s executive leadership team.

Ruhs will assume the acting deputy director position May 1, according to Nedd. Marci Todd, BLM Nevada’s associate state director, will take over for Ruhs, Nedd wrote.

The deputy director of operations is responsible for overseeing the day-to-day activities of managing the agency’s 10,000 employees and the nearly 250 million acres of public lands under its control.

Former BLM Director Bob Abbey has called the position the most important one at the agency (Greenwire, March 23, 2016).

Ruhs has been at BLM for nearly 30 years, serving in numerous positions, including as the director of BLM’s Eastern States Office and as BLM’s senior special assistant in Washington, D.C.

He made a name for himself within the agency as state director in Nevada. Sporting a forked mustache and wearing a cowboy hat, Ruhs got his boots on the ground early and often during his tenure in Nevada by visiting rural communities.

But his claim to fame involved brokering a truce in the summer of 2015 with ranchers who had openly defied BLM’s grazing restrictions and ridden horses from the Pacific Ocean to the U.S. Capitol to air grievances over the agency’s management.

A year earlier, armed ranchers had blocked BLM and law enforcement officials from removing hundreds of head of cattle owned by Bundy that were illegally grazing on federal lands. The 1,000 or so head of cattle from Bundy’s 160-acre ranch in Bunkerville, Nev., are apparently still roaming on federal land in and around the Gold Butte region, which former President Obama last year designated as a 300,000-acre national monument.

Bundy is facing federal felony charges in the 2014 standoff.

Ruhs, who was born to a farming family in Iowa and left home at age 17 to join the Marines, began his career at BLM in the late 1980s in Vale, Ore., as a seasonal “range rider” who monitored livestock use on remote federal lands, according to a 2015 E&E News profile (Greenwire, Sept. 21, 2015).

“I put a lot of miles on horses,” he said at the time.

He continued to do so in Nevada, where Ruhs said his personal meetings with ranchers helped earn their trust.

“I try to understand where they’re coming from,” he said in the profile. “You look through their eyes if you can.”

Nedd praised Ruhs in his email yesterday to staff.

“John’s experience as BLM-Nevada State Director and his reputation for proactive collaborative management make him an excellent candidate to fill this important role,” Nedd wrote.

Steve Ellis, who retired as deputy director of operations last year, agreed with Nedd, calling Ruhs a great choice for the position.

Ellis, who championed Ruhs as BLM Nevada director in 2015, said he “defused a lot of tension” between the agency and the ranching community following the Bundy fiasco.

“John’s done a great job in Nevada,” Ellis said.

Perez was appointed California state director in 2015, but he soon took leave to became acting deputy director of operations several months after Ellis retired.

“Since the transition in January, Jerry Perez has done a fantastic job serving as the Acting Deputy Director,” Nedd wrote. “He has helped steer our agency through a significant period of leadership change and I hope you will all join me in thanking him for his contributions during his time back east.”

Perez, who had previously served as director of BLM’s Oregon-Washington state office, will once again oversee 15.2 million acres of public lands in California, or nearly 15 percent of the state’s land mass.

“Please join me in thanking Jerry Perez for his service and in welcoming John Ruhs back to the Washington Office,” Nedd wrote.

Posted in Bio, BLM, News.

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