CHEYENNE - Environmental and industry groups in Wyoming are both waiting to see how Harris Sherman, the new leader of the U.S. Forest Service and the Natural Resources Conservation Service, will affect Wyoming.
Sherman, a former Colorado Department of Natural Resources executive director, was confirmed by the U.S. Senate last week as the U.S. Department of Agriculture's undersecretary for natural resources and the environment.
That makes Sherman the new head of the USFS and the NRCS, meaning he'll oversee millions of acres of land in Wyoming and influence the state's largest industries, from agriculture to energy exploration.
"It's a very important position," said Jim Magagna, president of the Wyoming Stock Growers Association.
Environmental groups cheered news of Sherman's confirmation - in part because they reviled Sherman's predecessor, former timber industry lobbyist Mark Rey, for stopping
or slowing new environmental rules, among other actions.
"We are encouraged by (Sherman's) appointment," said Lisa McGee of the Wyoming Outdoor Council. "Unlike past appointments that have come from the industry, quite frankly, I think his appointment itself is an indication that we might have more balance in the years to come."
Sherman, McGee said, will have "a full plate" of issues to tackle - from managing forests ravaged by bark beetles to the continuing debate over roadless areas in national forests to implementing the Wyoming Range Legacy Act, which withdraws 1.2 million acres of public land in northwest Wyoming from mineral leasing.
However, Sherman was criticized by some environmental groups last year for his work on proposed state roadless area rules.
The groups claimed that the proposed rules contained too many road-building exceptions for
logging and oil and gas production and said Sherman didn't do enough to
make the proposed rules tougher.
During his U.S. Senate confirmation hearings last month, Sherman voiced strong support for protecting roadless areas, calling them "an extremely important asset to our current generations and future generations."
Matt Garrington, field director for the environmental advocacy group Environment Colorado, said he expects Sherman will be a strong advocate of environmental protections in the West.
"Harris is definitely willing to take on tough fights when it's the right thing to do," Garrington said. "He's done a lot to protect wildlands, wildlife and water in the West from oil and gas development. I think we're going to see that same stalwart support when he's in D.C."
That might not be what Wyoming's agriculture and energy industries - both significantly affected by National Forest and NRCS policies - want to hear.
But many Wyoming industry figures say they are taking a wait-and-see approach to Sherman.
Magagna said he has heard "mixed feedback" when talking about Sherman with various people
in the livestock and other natural resources industries.
"He's from Colorado, which I would take as a good thing in that he's from the West," he said.
"I think he'll have a
good understanding of the issues. I have no reason to believe that he will have any agenda that is against our industry."
But many oil and gas producers have been wary of Sherman for helping to create sweeping environmental and disclosure regulations in Colorado on the state's energy industry.
The rules were passed by the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission with the support of Sherman, the commission's chairman.
Petroleum Association of Wyoming President Bruce Hinchey said he didn't know much about Sherman, but his confirmation "probably won't make a big difference" to Wyoming's oil and gas industry.
The Denver-based Independent Petroleum Association of Mountain States had no comment on Sherman's confirmation - "which is unusual for us," said spokesman Jon Haubert in an e-mail.
But some energy industry figures had kind words about Sherman.
"He's a good man," said Greg Schaefer, vice
president for Arch Coal, which operates two coal mines in the USFS-run Thunder Basin National Grassland in northeastern Wyoming.
Schaefer said energy resource companies always get worried when a
new administration takes over.
"But when it was Harris Sherman who was picked, there was this kind of breath of relief," said Schaefer, who got to know Sherman in Colorado. "I've always thought he was very tough but fair. And he was also accessible.
"He may not always side with you," Schaefer said, "but he does listen."