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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- David Hunsaker is stepping aside as manager of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in southern Utah to accept a post in Washington.
Hunsaker will leave in March to become deputy director of the National Landscape Conservation System, which oversees the Bureau of Land Management's specially designated lands, including monuments, wilderness study areas and scenic rivers and trails.
"I've been offered the job, and I've accepted," he told The Salt Lake Tribune on Tuesday.
Don Banks, spokesman for the BLM's state office in Salt Lake City, said the post would be advertised within the federal system. He did not know when a replacement would be named.
Banks said Hunsaker told him several months ago that he had applied for a new position.
Banks said running Grand Staircase "is probably the toughest job in the BLM, and Dave has done an amazing job. We're happy for him and disappointed for us."
Hunsaker said that during his remaining tenure at Grand Staircase he plans to see that multiple use and resource protection remain a top goal.
Hunsaker, who took over management of the 1.9 million-acre Grand Staircase in 2001, said his departure has nothing to do with the BLM's ongoing battles with Kane and Garfield counties over whether certain roads are under federal or local control.
"This has been in the works for several months," said Hunsaker of his new post. "I've talked to my wife about this and agonized over whether we wanted to go back (to Washington) or stay here in the field. I've been here almost five years, and this is a great opportunity. I'm not being eased out at all."
Sky Chaney, co-coordinator of Land Use Volunteers, a Kane County group that works with the BLM and off-road enthusiasts on public land projects, said he wonders whether some political maneuvering is at play.
"It's a shame to transfer a guy who seemed to know how things work," Chaney said. "He seemed to be a moderate guy."
Heidi McIntosh, conservation director for the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, said two previous monument managers left after battles with the Kane County Commission.
"This sends a terrible message to the next manager," she said. "It tells him or her that life is going to be hard if they try and enforce the laws that protect that special place."
Kane County Commissioner Mark Habbeshaw said it would be inappropriate to "discuss differences we've had," and "I wish the best for Hunsaker and hope we get a manager with a somewhat multiple-use philosophy that will protect resource values of the monument and even offer some economic subsistence from those resources."
(Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)