Some want his decisions tossed, too. William Perry Pendley’s “acting” status as Bureau of Land Management head calls into question rulings on monuments, drilling and wildlife conservation
You could be standing in a dozen different Western states and view landscapes where decisions on how they will be stewarded are linked to one political appointee—William Perry Pendley. From the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem to national monuments in Utah and many other corners of the West, Pendley’s fingerprint of influence is vast.
But here, the breathtaking view from the rim above Unaweep Canyon is what Erik Molvar remembers best from his trip last spring to western Colorado. Surrounded by the heady perfume of pinon and juniper, he saw red-rock cliffs rising from the green valley and heard the gentle music of dusk settling on the wild landscape of the Uncompahgre Plateau. Then a jarring thought spoiled his reverie. Oil and gas rigs could fill this scene by the next time he returned.
The day before, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, where Pendley had served as the agency’s “acting” director, had finalized a long-term management plan for the area that reflected the Trump administration’s “energy dominance” priority, not the wild landscapes overwhelmingly favored by the more than 2,500 Coloradans who’d sent comments to BLM.
The Uncompahgre plan, which applies to 676,000 terrestrial acres and nearly 1 million acres of subsurface mineral rights, is just one of dozens of decisions made under the oversight of Pendley. Molvar, who leads the conservation group Western Watersheds Project, said public lands like Unaweep Canyon should remain undeveloped to help people understand how healthy ecosystems look and to address climate change.
Otherwise, he said, “we’re going to have a planet that is a dystopian nightmare to live in, and we’re not going to be able to fix the damage that we’ve done.”
WIDE-RANGING IMPACTS ACROSS THE WEST
The Uncompahgre plan is one among dozens of public lands decisions across the West that could soon come under scrutiny in the federal courts due to Pendley’s involvement. In late September, Judge Brian Morris of the U.S. District Court in Great Falls, Montana ruled that it was unconstitutional for the Trump administration to put Pendley in charge of the nation’s largest land agency for nearly 14 months because the Senate has never signed off on Pendley’s leadership, as required by the U.S. Constitution and the Federal Vacancies Reform Act.
Not only was Pendley ousted by that ruling, but in a final decision, Morris struck down three BLM decisions involving federal lands in Montana: long-term plans for greater sage-grouse habitat and resource management plans developed in the agency’s Lewistown and Missoula field offices. “It is hard to measure the damage William Perry Pendley has done to America’s public lands, but this order rightly reverses several of the decisions made under his illegal watch,” said Tracy Stone-Manning of the National Wildlife Federation. “This administration has failed our public lands, and we’ll fight to rectify all of Mr. Pendley’s wrongs.”