On September 26, William Perry Pendley was officially removed as acting director of the Bureau of Land Management.
In a momentous ruling, a federal court sided with the case Gov. Steve Bullock brought against Pendley: that Pendley illegally served for 424 days in a position that must be filled by someone confirmed by the Senate.
Someone who has advocated for selling off public lands, tried to overturn Montana’s stream access law, defended a company that wants to drill in the Badger-Two Medicine, and supported Cliven Bundy’s armed standoff against BLM law enforcement – as Pendley has – should never have been allowed inside BLM’s doors.
President Trump nominated Pendley earlier this year for BLM director, but then withdrew the nomination after it became clear that Pendley was simply too toxic to clear a Senate confirmation vote. Nonetheless, the administration tried to keep Pendley on as BLM’s acting director, a position he held since last year, until the court decision forced him out.
The court also ruled that actions, plans, rules, and policies approved by Pendley are now “invalid” and must be “set aside” since Pendley did not have the legal authority to make those decisions. In light of this sweeping ruling, we are calling on the federal government to immediately scrap the Lewistown and Missoula resource management plans (RMPs) – documents that will guide the agency’s management decisions for decades to come — and rewrite them once a Senate-confirmed BLM director is in place.
The Lewistown RMP covers 650,000 acres of public lands in central Montana stretching from the Rocky Mountain Front to the Musselshell River breaks. That plan, approved by Pendley earlier this summer, opens 95% of the area to oil and gas leasing, imperiling some of the last intact prairie grasslands in the county that make this one of the most productive areas in North America for elk, upland birds, and other wildlife.
Pendley touted that the agency applied a new “backcountry conservation” designation to certain areas. But under this particular plan, you can literally and figuratively drive a truck through the loopholes in the designation, which would still allow for those areas to be drilled, logged and mined.
In approving this plan, Pendley pandered to oil and gas interests and ignored the BLM’s multiple-use mandate when he dismissed some 800 Montanans and other members of the public who urged the BLM to adopt a plan that protects habitat and wildlands, including the 200,000 acres the agency identified as having wilderness characteristics.
We’re also calling on the federal government to start over on the Missoula RMP, covering 160,000 acres of mostly forested land in western Montana. This plan has also largely been another giveaway to special interests. It contains zero protection for the last remaining roadless lands in the Garnet Range and Rock Creek drainage that have wilderness characteristics (with the exception of existing wilderness study areas, which can’t be modified by the RMP).
Moreover, we’re calling on Interior to rescind a Pendley-approved supplement to the Miles City RMP that, despite the court’s order from another lawsuit, failed to fully and meaningfully address how coal, oil, and gas development on public lands within the Miles City resource area would contribute to climate change.
The BLM hasn’t lived up to its multiple-use mandate in a long time. With the help of Interior Secretary David Bernhardt, Pendley has made the agency a virtual arm of the extractive industries. We have the opportunity now not just to revisit the Lewistown, Missoula, and Miles City RMPs, but to set aside Pendley’s decisions across the West and to compel the BLM to honor its mandate, which includes conservation.
The court decision rights some terrible wrongs. We thank Governor Bullock for fighting for the rule of law and wise management of our public lands.
Aubrey Bertram is the eastern Montana field director at Montana Wilderness Association. Tracy Stone Manning is the associate vice president for public lands at National Wildlife Federation. Alec Underwood is the federal conservation campaigns director at Montana Wildlife Federation.