By CODY PERRY
Acting Director William Perry Pendley’s clumsy and demoralizing leadership at the Bureau of Land Management is immensely alarming and demands immediate action.
Mr. Pendley is first and foremost an outspoken opponent of public lands, the commons that belong to all Americans. In the recent past, he has promoted selling public lands or turning them over to states, believing the founding fathers intended all public lands to be sold. It baffles the mind to have someone like Pendley at the helm of leadership at the BLM; it’s like having an arsonist run a fire department. As collective public landowners, we must come together and protect precious landscapes and heritage from this ill-fit leader.
Senate approval is required to appoint a full-time director, a process Pendley has not gone through. It takes only a cursory read through his career to understand why Department of Interior leadership is wary of putting him through the wringer — his past is littered with ranting conspiracy-theory madness of the right-wing extremist. He denies climate science, promotes anti-Islamic views and has referred to undocumented immigrants as “a cancer.”
Public lands are really ancestral homelands for Native America peoples in the country, and the BLM is tasked with working with tribes to protect cultural resources. As if colonization and displacement aren’t enough, Pendley has openly mocked many traditional Native American cultures and their spiritual connection to the Earth. In his role as a lawyer for the Mountain States Legal Foundation, he praised a Ninth Circuit decision that disregarded sacred religious sites in Arizona in order to develop a ski resort. I, for one, am deeply disgusted with further disrespect to people whose ancestors have lived in the West centuries longer than Pendley’s lineage.
Pendley appears to staunchly support localized decision-making when it comes to public lands. However, the most recent Resource Management Plan for the Uncompahgre BLM Field Office, based out of Montrose, selected an alternative emphasizing energy development. County Commissioners from Ouray, San Miguel, and Gunnison counties all drafted letters opposing the decision. Once again, we see blatant insincerity from those tasked with managing the public trust, leading me to assume that energy companies now located next door to the new Grand Junction offices must have better access to Pendley than anyone.
All these new jobs here in Grand Junction are responsible for promoting the multiple and balanced needs on public lands. They engage in federal budget sessions where the BLM sits as an intersectional punching bag with the procedural burden of managing lands, with heavy-hitting industry players forcing their self-interest into policy. As one of many agencies consistently getting funding slashed, it’s hard to assume the BLM is getting the capital support needed to push-back on industry liege actors looking to make personal gain from public resources; especially with Pendley sitting at the head of the table. Now more than ever, modest procedural policy tools — and the BLM’s organizational structure itself — are being hijacked by powerful corporations in order to speed up development and maximize personal profit at the expense of the commons.
All of us who engage in public affairs can become siloed. Environmentalists, ranchers, and industry workers alike who spend time in these common spaces all tend to think within their self-interests — understandably — yet having to please so many contradictory constituents isn’t easy. Such a wide lens requires the BLM to maintain a big-picture management strategy that can encompass different cultures, values, and land uses within a shoestring budget. The Bureau of Land Management deserves a lot more respect and support than is generally elicited from the public.
Demanding Pendley be removed is an act of solidarity. Not only for land, water, and wildlife; but for democracy, and each other. Jan. 3 is supposed as his last day in the role, however, it seems most likely the date will be pushed back yet again, without real action toward finding a more appropriate director. The leader of the BLM needs to be thoughtful, well-balanced, and unbiased. Collectively we can dictate the future of the BLM, but that begins with throwing the fox out of the henhouse. Mr. Pendley should resign and return to his true calling as an entitled, arrogant demagogue.
Cody M. Perry is co-founder of Rig To Flip, a media company specializing in stories about the Colorado River Basin’s land, water and people that inspire. stewardship, awareness and engagement. His passion is telling stories about the West. Cody comes from a ranching family in southern Arizona, has worked as an outdoor educator, ski patroller, writer and community organizer, and lives in Grand Junction.