- Associated Press - Monday, June 1, 2015

DICKINSON, N.D. (AP) - When the U.S. Forest Service was looking for someone to head a portion of the Little Missouri National Grasslands, it ended up way outside the box.

Shannon Boehm, 47, is a retired colonel with the U.S. Army, a West Point graduate, a company commander in Iraq and a member of the Special Forces, known as the Green Berets.

He’s also a hometown boy, a graduate of New Salem High School, married to his high school sweetheart, Jeri Federer.

Boehm, a burly guy with a warm, straightforward manner, is the new district ranger of the grasslands’ Medora District headquartered in Dickinson, the Bismarck Tribune (https://bit.ly/1cYeXNA ) reported. That’s about 500,000 acres of federal land in Billings, Slope and Golden Valley counties, mixing badlands, river country and open prairie.

Under Boehm’s command is much more land than people, and it’s the people who will present the greatest challenge.

Boehm will work with thousands of members of the public - ranchers with federal grazing permits, oil companies with drilling plans, sportsmen with rifles and pickups and recreation enthusiasts with bicycles, tents and horse trailers.

Managing these diverse interests may make pulling 900 men and women together into a unified fighting force in Iraq seem like a day at summer camp in comparison.

“It’ll be like dancing on the edge of the knife with all these entities involved. But I’m here for the long haul to work with the partners that we’ve got,” said Boehm, adding that his experience and training has equipped him to be a leader.

“In special operations, we’re trained to be adaptable,” he said.

It was the chance to serve that caught his attention when he was looking for a second career that would bring his family home to its roots after years moving around the world and the country.

Family is still in New Salem and there is the Mott legacy, where his dad, Donald Boehm, grew up and where his grandfather, Frank Boehm, was a community patriarch and proprietor of the Mott Supply Store.

Like the granddad he resembles and admires, Boehm says he had something to give of himself.

“I wanted to contribute to something that’s valuable to the public. Here, I can make a contribution to resources that we have an obligation to sustain for generations to come,” said Boehm, adding he wants to improve relations, especially with the grazing associations.

“There are concerns; nobody would deny it. It’s a heck of a challenge. They’re in the here and now trying to make their living on the grasslands, while we have 180 laws on the books that we’re bound by. Those permits are not a small concern to them. We’ve got to find the best way forward, but I’m not going to blow smoke, either,” he said.

Dennis Neitzke, supervisor of the Dakota Prairie Grasslands, says he hired Boehm for the job because of his military background, not in spite of it.

Neitzke said he had the opportunity to work with an army colonel at the Superior National Forest and learned to value all the leadership training the military provides.

“We already have all the specialists on staff, the range and minerals folks, but, when I looked at his background, the unique leadership schools in the military, I thought he was the right man for the job,” he said.

He said he looks to Boehm to go outside the office to establish and improve relations with the grazing associations and county boards and to improve the work flow inside the office.

Neitzke said the agency has been challenged to fill openings in the Medora and McKenzie district offices because of the oil boom economics and neither office is fully staffed at the present time. He says he hopes new salary and housing enhancements will turn that around.

Boehm has been at the job since February and says every day is an education on 15 new topics as he grapples with the “big four” interests on the grasslands - the range, the recreation, the oil and gas interests and fire management. One day he is meeting with the grazing associations and the next with the Maah Daah Hey Trail mountain bike association on the other.

He said the agency has allowed some aspects of its partnership to languish and he hopes to breathe new energy into making a difference and meet objectives for the land, as it’s chartered to do.

“We need to do our best by the land,” he said. “This is good work.”

___

Information from: Bismarck Tribune, https://www.bismarcktribune.com

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