Kathleen Clarke, the first woman to head the Interior Department’s Bureau of Land Management (BLM), resigned Thursday after five years as director to return to her home state of Utah. Clarke took over the agency leadership in January 2002.

Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne praised her performance, saying “Our public lands, our forests and our landscapes are better off” because of Clarke’s service. One of her priorities was to streamline land oversight to speed up permitting for oil and gas operations. Under her direction the BLM participated in setting up seven interagency pilot project offices to act as one-stop shops for permitting, monitoring and enforcement. Clarke said the pilot offices were “laboratories for efficiency and environmental protection.”

Clarke has been heavily criticized by conservationists for opening sensitive areas of public lands to oil and gas activities. In Wyoming, areas in the Red Desert and the Upper Green River Valley area have been opened to oil and gas drilling under Clarke’s tenure.

Before taking over BLM, Clarke had worked as executive director of the Utah Department of Natural Resources and as a top aide to former Rep. James Hansen, a Utah Republican who once headed the House Resources Committee.

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