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Pine Creek Lake. Photo by Walker Stole
Jul 30 2019

The Once Unthinkable Becomes Reality at the BLM

William Perry Pendley, an outspoken advocate for selling off our public lands, takes the reins at the Bureau of Land Management

It was once unthinkable that an outspoken advocate for selling off our public lands would someday become the chief of the largest public land management agency in the country.

Sadly, the unthinkable became reality last week with the appointment of William Perry Pendley as acting director of the Bureau of Land Management despite his advocacy for selling off all national public lands across the West, lands he now oversees. 

Pendley is former president of the Mountain States Legal Foundation, a property rights group that regularly sues the Department of the Interior, which encompasses the BLM, on behalf of extractive industry companies. He, in fact, served as the former lead counsel of Solenex, the Louisiana oil company that is suing the federal government for the right to drill in the Badger-Two Medicine.

As acting director of the BLM, Pendley will now oversee the management of approximately 8 million acres of public land in Montana, including the Upper Missouri River Breaks National Monument, the Centennial Mountains, Bear Trap Canyon, Terry Badlands and other renowned areas throughout the state.  The BLM also administers mineral leasing on all federally managed public lands in Montana, including Forest Service lands.

The BLM manages some of the most revered places in Montana, and we now have someone in charge of the BLM who would prefer to sell those places off rather than do the job of caring for them on behalf of all Americans. It’s hard to imagine anyone in this position more dangerous or more conflicted than William Perry Pendley.

That’s why we are asking Sens. Steve Daines and Jon Tester to tell Interior Secretary David Bernhardt that Pendley needs to be removed from this position. Please join us in making that request to Daines and Tester or, if you live outside Montana, to your own Senators. 

Interior Secretary David Bernhardt hired Pendley as the BLM’s deputy director of policy and programs. He started in the position on July 15. A week later, he was moved into the top spot of the agency after the previous acting director, Casey Hammond, returned to his previous role within the agency. BLM director is a Senate confirmed position. 

Bernhardt knows that Pendley’s history as an anti-public land zealot would never withstand the scrutiny of a Senate confirmation hearing. So Bernhardt installed Pendley as acting BLM head in this unscrupulous manner, depriving the American public from having a say through their elected Senators.

This is yet more evidence confirming that the Department of the Interior under the current administration is intent on selling out our public lands to unfettered industrial development and perhaps selling them out of the public domain entirely. 

In the last few years, we’ve seen Interior hire a Wyoming lawyer named Karen Budd-Falen, one of the original sagebrush rebels and a legal architect of the lands transfer movement. A former lawyer of Cliven Bundy, she has made a career out of trying to seize public lands and of filing frivolous lawsuits against the very department that she now serves as deputy Interior solicitor for wildlife and parks.

A few months ago, the BLM released two draft management plans, one for public lands in western Montana and another for central Montana. Both contained no conservation measures whatsoever, and instead prioritized resource extraction above all else. The latter draft resource management plan is particularly egregious, opening nearly all of the 650,000 acres in central Montana to oil and gas development and protecting zero acres of lands with wilderness character. 

With Pendley in charge of the BLM, those draft management plans are far less likely to change in the final draft, no matter how much we protest them. 

Add to that the relocation of the BLM headquarters to Colorado, away from our national elected officials and agencies, and you clearly see a pattern: these lands are no longer to be managed for the American people but for a small group of well-connected industries. If we don’t act now, we risk losing them altogether. 

Please take a moment to let your Senators know that Pendley, with his background, has no business working for the BLM and that he should be removed immediately

- Kayje Booker, MWA policy and advovacy director