Rick Fields leaves behind a legacy of working to improve outdoor recreation

Hannah Grover
Farmington Daily Times
BLM Farmington Field Office Field Manager Rick Fields reviews priority work in 2020. Fields died of cancer on Feb. 11.

FARMINGTON — Bureau of Land Management Field Manager Rick Fields always had a bowl of candy on his desk in the Farmington Field Office — and he noticed the small things. He knew what type of candy was the most popular with his coworkers.

BLM Farmington Field Office Public Affairs Specialist Jillian Aragon said Fields even knew how the office's candy preferences changed based on season. In the fall, he would have candy like Reese’s while, in the spring, it would be a more fruity-flavored candy.

Fields died on Feb. 11 at his house surrounded by family after being diagnosed with several types of cancer, including stage four pancreatic cancer. He was 57 years old. Fields was a veteran of the U.S. Army, having spent 10 years in the service and ending his career at the U.S. Pentagon.

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District Manager Al Elser said Fields had only gotten the diagnosis a few weeks earlier and had wanted to have a virtual meeting with all the BLM field office staff to prepare them. That meeting never happened.

His coworkers described him as attentive and supportive. They said he valued work-life balance and believed it was important to spend time with family.

Aragon recalled that he would stop by her desk at the end of each day to tell her that she had done a good job and that she should go home and spend time with her family.

Aragon and Project Manager Sarah Scott expressed gratitude for the opportunities that Fields provided them to grow in their careers as well as the support he showed, and the lessons he taught them.

Rick Fields is seen during a 2016 interview with The Daily Times shortly after he took the position as field manager.

Outdoor recreation 

The legacy he leaves behind includes pushing for increased outdoor recreation opportunities especially around Farmington.

"If there is one thing that I would like him to know, in whatever after life he is in, it is that the work that he started here is not going to falter," Elser said. "He was so passionate about, in particular, the rec program and working with the city and county in developing things like Glade Run and the mountain biking trails and the campground up there (at Brown Springs)."

Elser said Fields had big plans for continuing the work to develop outdoor recreation in the area.

"I know we're not going to let those plans falter," he said.

BLM Field Manager Rick Fields, left, receives a letter by Counselor Chapter Community Services Coordinator Samuel Sage protesting the use of hydraulic fracturing in the Greater Chaco Area during a rally at the BLM Field Office in Farmington in this undated file photo. Coworkers said that Fields valued relationships with Native American communities.

Building relationships with Native American communities

Fields joined the Farmington Field Office in 2016, and his coworkers said he was passionate about reaching out to the tribes and building relationships.

When he first started his job in Farmington, he told The Daily Times that he planned to address challenges like streamlining procedures as well as increasing transparency and reaching out to the agency's tribal partners and public-interest groups.

Aragon said that he would tell the staff that the relationships with Native American tribes were one of his priorities.

"They're not always easy when you're working for the federal government, but he was pretty adamant that we work to build our relationships with them," she said. 

Fields was a member of the Long Hair Clan of Cherokee Nation and previously worked as the director of the Cherokee Heritage Center. He also volunteered his archaeological expertise to help develop the Saline Courthouse Cherokee National Monument.

His culture was important to him and he taught his children to speak the Cherokee language. Additionally, he was an artist and created Cherokee Booger Masks.

Respecting people with different views

Fields' role as field manager meant he often attended public meetings where he spoke about BLM projects and plans that were controversial, such as the Mancos-Gallup Resource Management Plan Amendment, often referred to as the Chaco drilling plan.

Comments could get heated and, at times, were directed at him. Aragon and Elser said he took it in stride and didn't hold it against the commenters. 

"I think that there was a part of Rick that really respected the passion that people have," Aragon said.

"Rick recognized that those emotions are coming out because people have true ownership of whatever issue it is that we are asking their input on," Elser said. "And he never judged the folks that got really vocal outside of that environment."

Scott said there were times that she and Fields did not see eye to eye, but that did not impact their working relationship.

"He was always very supportive," she said.

Hannah Grover covers government for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4652 or via email at hgrover@daily-times.com.

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