Nada Culver

Nada Culver

An attorney who long has worked for conservation groups on Bureau of Land Management issues in Colorado and elsewhere has been named to fill the high-level BLM position formerly occupied by William Perry Pendley.

Nada Culver, who most recently served as vice president of public lands and senior policy counsel at the National Audubon Society, in a position based in Denver, will serve as the BLM’s deputy director of policy and programs.

In that capacity, the Interior Department confirmed, Culver will in effect be running the agency for the short term. Pendley likewise ran the agency while holding the job Culver is taking, as there long has been no BLM director in place.

The BLM directorship position is subject to a Senate confirmation process following nomination by the president. President Joe Biden hasn’t yet nominated anyone to serve as the director.

According to the Interior Department, Culver’s BLM position is the first position in the agency’s succession order, so she will be performing delegated duties of the BLM director.

Culver previously served as senior counsel and senior director for policy and planning at the Wilderness Society, where she helped create that organization’s BLM Action Center in Denver, which works with people on participating in land use planning processes and management decisions. At the Wilderness Society she was involved in projects such as protecting land on the Roan Plateau west of Rifle from oil and gas development, and protecting sage-grouse habitat.

Before joining the Wilderness Society, Culver started her career in the private sector, working on environmental issues including energy development and environmental remediation, and was a partner with the law firm Patton Boggs, now Squire Patton Boggs.

The Interior Department announced Culver’s appointment Monday, one of numerous appointments made by the department since President Biden took office Jan. 20.

“Interior’s political team proudly reflects the diversity of America, with more than 50% identifying as BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and people of color) and 80% as women,” Interior said in Monday’s release.

Culver stands in stark contrast to her predecessor, Pendley. An attorney and Evergreen resident who previously was president of the conservative Mountain States Legal Foundation, he joined the BLM as deputy director of policy and programs in mid-2019 and immediately began running the agency.

He helped pursue the Trump administration’s energy dominance public-lands agenda and also led the agency’s relocation of national headquarters jobs in Washington, D.C., to numerous locations in the West, including to its new national headquarters in Grand Junction. While Pendley’s position remained based in Washington, he spent a lot of time in the job visiting Grand Junction and other western BLM locations.

Donald Trump eventually nominated Pendley to be the BLM director but later withdrew that nomination. Pendley was a controversial figure at BLM in part due to comments he’d made before joining the agency in support of selling off public lands. A Montana judge ultimately ruled that Pendley unlawfully served 424 days as acting BLM director because he hadn’t been confirmed by the Senate and didn’t fall in the permitted category of people can serve in an acting capacity. But Pendley remained in a leadership position at the agency until Trump left office. He “off-boarded BLM” on Jan. 20, BLM spokesperson Richard Packer told The Daily Sentinel.

Pendley has declined interview requests by the Sentinel since leaving the BLM, but issued a goodbye message to BLM employees that he also posted to his LinkedIn page (see related item).

Culver on Monday said she couldn’t comment on her new job, referring questions to an Interior spokesperson.

Scott Braden, director of the Colorado Wildlands Project, said he’s “just thrilled” about Culver’s hiring.

“I think I’m just really delighted that somebody who has such a depth and breath of experience with BLM policy is going to be at this important position,” Braden said.

He said he can’t think of a better person than Culver to help the agency rebuild after losing a lot of career staff, and thinks she will do a great job rebalancing the agency after it tilted to one side of its multi-use mission due to the Trump administration’s energy dominance focus.

“I think this is a great kind of way to correct and rebalance and rebuild a BLM for the 21st century, one that thinks about how we can use land management to tackle issues like climate change and equitable access and conservation, and bringing those things back into the mix of land management,” he said.

Kathleen Sgamma, president of the Western Energy Alliance oil and gas industry trade group, said in an email, “It’s not at all surprising that many environmental activists will occupy key positions in the Interior Department. It’s well known that environmental groups wrote many of the policies in the Obama/Biden Administration, so it’s not surprising that they will occupy posts in the Biden Administration.

But she added, “Nada is a very smart, tough advocate, but she’s always been fair. We’re often on opposite sides of issues, but that’s to be expected, as we represent different viewpoints, both of which are valid and necessary for BLM to contend with.”