Until he’s directed
otherwise, Alan Mikkelsen plans to continue in his
current role as senior adviser to the Secretary of the
Mikkelsen shared his
willingness to stay the course with the position in a
phone interview with the Herald and News Tuesday, days
following the announced resignation of Secretary of the
Interior Ryan Zinke, who will leave office at the end of
Mikkelsen said he
wouldn’t speculate on who could be next in line for the
top Interior post, but emphasized the Klamath Basin
would likely remain a high priority for whomever takes
“This is just about the
largest natural resource conflict in Department of the
Interior,” Mikkelsen said, only rivaling the Everglades
“I think any secretary is
going to be interested in and keen to see this situation
Zinke will leave his
Interior post on Dec. 31, and names for his replacement
are already being floated in national news outlets.
Among contenders are Deputy Secretary of the Interior
David Bernhardt, Idaho Gov. Butch Otter, Rep. Raul
Labrador, R-Idaho, Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., and former
Rep. Cynthia Lummis, a Wyoming Republican, according to
a report by The Hill in Washington, D.C.
“I obviously serve at the
pleasure of the secretary, whoever the secretary is,”
Mikkelsen said. “I think that I have got a good
relationship with the stakeholders in the Basin as well
as stakeholders across the West. I really enjoy the work
and I enjoy the challenge of the work. But at anytime if
somebody wants me to leave, all they have to do is say,
‘Alan, it’s time for you to go fishing.’”
Mikkelsen has been
traveling to the Klamath Basin since August 2017 in an
effort to facilitate a long-term water agreement between
on- and off-Project irrigators, and, until recently,
with the Klamath Tribes.
The 66-year-old fishing
guide and Montana resident said he has no other career
ambitions following this current post than to return to
the rivers where he likes to guide and fish.
He has likened the
process of working with local stakeholders toward a
long-term water agreement as climbing Mount Everest, the
highest peak in the world.
“I am not doing this for
the sake of having a job,” Mikkelsen said. “I don’t have
any further or professional ambitions at my age. But I
truly do enjoy the work and the challenge, but I am also
ready to go fishing as needed.”
Mikkelsen this fall
formed what he calls a “coalition of the willing,” a
group now comprising close to 60 people, including
several individuals from the Klamath Basin.
The group met recently at
the Bureau of Land Management office in Medford, chosen
for its federal offices and large meeting room,
according to Mikkelsen.
Those attending were
“virtually every single stakeholder group in the Basin
except obviously the Klamath Tribes,” Mikkelsen said,
although three Tribes members were in the room
observing. He would not comment for publication on the
parties who attended the meeting.
Mikkelsen has said talks
between he and the Tribes had stalled since a meeting
with the Tribal Council last summer.
“We’re hopeful that they
would be willing to join in the discussions,” Mikkelsen
said, “but regardless, I was extremely encouraged just
simply by all of the parties that were there. And their
willingness to talk about difficult issues.”
The coalition plans to
meet again in mid-January at the BLM office, and in
Redding, Calif., in February, where Mikkelsen referenced
ease of access for his staff.
Mikkelsen has no current
plans to visit Klamath Falls in 2019, although he said
he doesn’t mean he will not visit.
Mikkelsen said a large
group of individuals from Klamath Falls and other
communities are involved in the meetings, and that
Medford serves as an accessible location where
individuals can meet in the middle.
“At some point we may be
getting into a public meeting situation where we would
have public meetings around the Basin and obviously
Klamath Falls would be one logical place for that,”
When asked how soon a
public meeting could occur, Mikkelsen chuckled and
searched for an appropriate answer.
“I don’t want to take a
guess at that,” he said. “Let me put it this way, I came
to the Klamath Basin with very high expectations … I
have now tempered those expectations greatly. And I just
want to see where this current process takes us. I am
very encouraged where we’re at right now, but I don’t
want to get ahead of the process in any way.”