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Brian Hockett
Range conservationist with the Bureau of Land Management, enforcing grazing regulations and fees on public lands
Ranchers, BLM managers
Reprimanded by the BLM for 19 allegations of misconduct, including “driving in an unsafe manner when angry” and “refer[ring] to himself as amanagement’s worst nightmare'”
“Brian, keep up the good work” (note from Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babbitt)

On the frontier battleground between free-range cowboys and federal-land managers, 38-year-old Brian Hockett, a wildlife conservationist with the BLM in Dillon, Mont., came to a simple decision: “You’ve gotta be a bad cop or be quiet. Most [government employees] are just quiet.”

Ever since Bruce Babbitt took office, Western ranchers, loggers, and miners have locked horns with federal-land managers bent on charging higher grazing fees, exacting mining royalties, and implementing stringent environmental reform on government-owned lands. Not surprisingly, at the BLM, which oversees 270 million acres of public land in the West, things have gotten ugly, especially for Hockett.

The Clinton administration’s first BLM director, Jim Baca, an outspoken reformer, was forced to resign. Now, without Baca’s support (and in the shadow of Western senators and governors who, environmentalists claim, kowtow to the cowboys), BLM’s reform-minded employees are being made to feel like outlaws–often by their own bosses.

Reducing livestock is key to saving other species in rangeland ecosystems, but when Hockett recommends cattle reductions on Montana’s public lands, ranchers complain long and loud. “Words like ariparian ecosystem management’ don’t mean a whole lot to ranchers,” he says. “They don’t understand the damage livestock can inflict on the environment.

“We try to educate them, show them the data, but that’s not my job,” Hockett continues. “My job is to make recommendations and enforce laws. And the laws aren’t a popular thing right now.” After one tense meeting with local ranchers late last summer–at the same time that Babbitt personally lauded Hockett for his research–BLM managers reassigned Hockett to nearby Butte to conduct weed surveys.

While the Labor Department considers his formal complaint against the BLM, Hockett considers the dimming prospect of true reform. “The sad thing is that [the BLM is] more likely to believe a wing-tipped rancher than one of their own,” he says. “It’s all politics, I guess, but I’m not giving up.”


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