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New Defenders of the Purple Sage

Barry Smith

The whole problem with the Bureau of Land Management, as I see it, is image.

The folks at the BLM always come out looking like the bad guy in these disputes with cattle ranchers, with Indian tribes, with dirt bikers, with wild-horse lovers, with … well, you get the idea.

The BLM is in the middle of just about every shooting match in the West these days. If this were a cowboy movie, they’d be played by the guys with the bad teeth.

Oh, sure, there are all kinds of debates over lawsuits and constitutionality and property rights and treaties dating back to 1863.

But, hey! This is a new millennium. Substance doesn’t matter. It’s all image. And the BLM comes off as extras in some black-and-white documentary.

Let’s start with the name: Bureau of Land Management.

Awful.

There hasn’t been a worse name since the Bureau of Reclamation, and that bunch of dam-builders is practically out of business these days.

As bad as the name is, the acronym is worse: BLM. I’m sorry, but the average person associates BLM with bowel movements. Something’s got to be done.

So let’s start the makeover with the name. I suggest New Defenders of the Purple Sage.

OK, it doesn’t sound much like a federal bureaucracy. But that’s the idea, isn’t it?

It wouldn’t be quite so easy to make a villain of the New Defenders of the Purple Sage, out there protecting Nevada’s vast stretches of wide-open openness from the ravages of grazing cows.

I’m imagining the whole media campaign now, starting with some Public Service Announcements on late-night TV sandwiched between the commercials by Miss Cleo, the Jamaican psychic.

“Hold on there, pardner,” says the Defender, a rosy-cheeked cowboy in a 10-gallon hat and yellow neckerchief, riding up on a palomino alongside his trusty sidekick, Winky. “When I see beeves that may have accidently moseyed onto America’s sagebrush, I do my best to reunite them with their owners. I send the owner a nice note, and then if I don’t hear from the owner for, say, a few years, then I go ahead and round up his beeves for him.

“Ain’t that right, Winky?”

Winky scuffs his boots in the dirt, gives the Defender an aw-shucks look and the two ride into the sunset, driving a small herd of cattle before them. “New Defenders of the Purple Sage,” reads the closing banner. “It’s a Whole New Frontier.”

Oh, you think this is some kind of ludicrous idea, huh?

Well, the U.S. Postal Service has Lance Armstrong riding through the French Alps. We used to think the Postal Service was slow as molasses, but now we think of the Postal Service as speeding along narrow, winding streets in European villages wearing a yellow jersey, tight shorts and funny helmet.

I’m not sure that has helped, but it certainly is a whole new image.

And I recently read that NASA has begun a whole new publicity campaign aimed at the MTV generation. It hired a boy-band named “Natural” to perform at the launch of the Space Shuttle Endeavor earlier this year, much to the delight of a bunch of screaming teenage girls.

Most of us, of course, would have screamed in delight if NASA had actually launched a few boy-bands into deep space. But I guess that’s for the marketing experts to decide.

The Internal Revenue Service has a hip new Internet site, which directs Web surfers to flashy graphics offering “What’s Hot!” at the IRS. As it turns out, what’s hot at the IRS is stuff like new rules for deducting interim losses for limited partnerships. But like I said, it’s about image, not substance.

The Forest Service – which gets into enough trouble on its own with loggers and conservationists and the like – does its best to take the focus off the number of trees it either does or does not allow to be cut down, and put it on somebody named Woodsy Owl.

Actually, most people think of Smokey Bear when they think of forests. How could you be mad at Smokey Bear for long? Geez. Would you sue Woodsy Owl? I don’t think so.

Many Forest Service and Park Service people wear those Ranger Smith hats, too, which simply remind us of Yogi Bear and pic-a-nic baskets, reinforcing the notion this is not some huge government bureaucracy – it’s a Saturday morning cartoon.

Maybe we should take this image makeover up a level to the Department of the Interior, which has to be the most misleading name for a government agency since the Central Intelligence Agency.

C’mon, people. Department of the Interior? No, it’s the Department of the Great Outdoors. It’s the Department of America’s Trees and Shrubs.

The least they could do is call it the Department of the Exterior.

Ain’t that right, Winky?

Barry Smith is managing editor of the Nevada Appeal.