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Home Wild Word With Pendley Ousted, It’s Time to Right His Terrible Wrongs
Pine Creek Lake. Photo by Walker Stole
Oct 07 2020

With Pendley Ousted, It’s Time to Right His Terrible Wrongs

A federal court tosses three Montana land management plans made under Pendley's leadership

Update, Oct. 28: Although Pendley continues to ignore a federal judge's order removing him from his position as acting director of the Bureau of Land Management, the same judge has tossed out several land management plans made under Pendley's leadership, all of which lopsidedly prioritized oil and gas extraction across huge tracts of public land.

Montana federal district court judge Brian Morris ruled that three Montana plans, including the Lewistown and Missoula Resource Management Plans (RMPs), are invalid, since Pendley “had not been properly appointed to the position, and instead had exercised authority as acting BLM director through a series of unlawful delegations.” Therefore, wrote Morris, “Any exclusive function of the BLM director performed by Pendley is invalid.”

We're glad the court has thrown out these one-sided plans that transparently favored the oil and gas industry at the expense of Montana's public lands, wildlife, and citizens. It's now clearer than ever that the BLM and Interior Secretary David Bernhardt must start these plans from scratch and work with Montanans to develop plans that respect the vast ecological, recreational, and cultural values of our public lands. 


Original post, Oct. 7: The good news broke late Friday on the eve of Public Lands Day. Following a lawsuit filed by Montana’s Governor Steve Bullock, William Perry Pendley was out as acting director of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) when a federal court ruling found that he had illegally served 424 days in that role. 

We celebrated Public Lands day with much more hope and joy knowing the arsonist was no longer in charge of the fire department. 

Pendley’s past actions are a damning rap sheet of public land malfeasance. He’s been an outspoken advocate for selling off public lands. He tried to overturn Montana’s prized stream access law. He defended a Louisiana company that wanted to drill in the Badger-Two Medicine area adjacent to Glacier National Park. And he inexplicably supported Clive Bundy’s armed standoff against federal law enforcement, including BLM enforcement 

But the good news didn’t stop with Pendley’s ouster. The court also found that the BLM’s actions, plans, rules, and policies taken under Pendley’s authority are invalid and must be “set aside.” 

Among these decisions in Montana are the controversial Lewistown and Missoula resource management plans (RMPs), plans that categorically failed to protect the wilderness character while opening nearly every acre to industrial development, Even for someone whose career and public persona are built on a desire to sell off public lands to the highest bidder, opening up 95% of the Lewistown management plan to oil and gas leasing wasn’t enough. At the end of 2019, Pendley doubled down and issued internal guidance urging faster leasing to siphon more public land development rights into private hands. 

Montanans already knew that the Lewistown plan is an egregious culmination of years of BLM policy that effectively puts oil and gas leasing above all other uses, especially conservation. And following the recent court ruling, we now know it was authorized illegally.

Now is our chance to right some terrible wrongs. That’s why we are calling on Secretary of the Interior, David Bernhardt, to first rescind the Lewistown and Missoula RMPs – along with other decisions affecting Montana’s public land – and start over. And though Pendley was removed as acting director, he still serves as the BLM’s deputy director of policy and programs. We believe someone who led an organization illegally for 424 days has no place as a government official and needs to be removed from the agency entirely.  

Sign the Open Letter

We thank Governor Bullock for standing up for the rule of law. The BLM hasn’t lived up to its multiple-use mandate in a long time. Aided and abetted by Sec. Bernhardt, Pendley ignored Montanans and made the agency a virtual arm of the extractive industry. But we can fix it. Join us in asking the Secretary of Interior to scrap Pendley’s illegal actions and give Montanans the redo they very much deserve.

Aubrey Bertram
Eastern Montana Field Director

Aubrey works with communities to protect eastern Montana’s prairies, badlands, and island mountain ranges. She spends her time skiing, hiking, and running, volunteering with civic organizations in Billings, exploring public lands with her two dogs, and napping on the couch with her two cats.
Email Aubrey