A man who opposes public lands has just been put in charge of them — lands owned by you and me and all Americans. The nomination of William Perry Pendley to become the acting head of the Bureau of Land Management is perhaps a capstone for this administration’s relationship to our country’s cherished public lands.

Pendley was the former president of the Mountain States Legal Foundation, an organization that advocates for getting rid of America’s public lands and for rolling back environmental protections. He has spent decades trying to sue the federal government for protecting endangered species. He has fought against designating national monuments. He stood up for lawbreaking cattlemen who held an armed standoff with BLM employees. He represented an oil and gas company that was given an illegal lease to drill on land that is sacred to the Blackfeet Tribe. He has argued loudly that the federal government shouldn’t own public lands. Full stop.

It makes no sense to put someone who has such antipathy for our public lands — and the public servants who protect them — in charge of the agency that manages 248 million acres of them. That’s roughly 40% of all federal public land — land that belongs to all of us, whether we are hikers, bikers, kayakers, birdwatchers, hunters, anglers or just wildlife lovers.

William Perry Pendley
William Perry Pendley

It makes no sense — unless the goal of this administration is to take these lands away from us. Looking at the record of this administration and the way it has treated our public lands, that just might be the case.

So far, two national monuments were decimated in the largest rollback of environmental protection ever in our nation’s history, reckless oil and gas leasing has been prioritized, a bipartisan land agreement to protect an imperiled bird in the West was scrapped, and pristine public lands in the Arctic have been fast-tracked for development. And in every case, the administration has sought to limit public input — or keep its actions completely out of sight.

The appointment of Pendley is no exception. He was installed at BLM in a new, made-up position described as “exercising the authority of the director,” which is to say he’ll be the director without calling him the director. By using this backdoor approach, Pendley won’t be required to answer to Congress at a confirmation hearing. It means the Senate will be barred from doing its constitutional duty to advise and consent. It means the public won’t get to hear why a man who has made it his life’s work to fight against public lands should now be put in charge of taking care of those very lands.

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The Pendley appointment came at the same time that the Department of Interior announced it was moving BLM offices out of Washington, D.C. The justification was to bring employees closer to the lands they manage. But already 96% of BLM employees work outside of D.C. Instead, what many BLM employees fear is that by moving the top bosses away from congressional scrutiny, it will be easier to begin dismantling the agency itself. Promoting Pendley to lead the agency has confirmed their worst suspicions.

Americans love their public lands and do not want them sold off or pillaged by reckless energy development. Our public lands help fuel $887 billion a year in consumer spending in the outdoor recreation economy that supports 7.6 million jobs. They provide habitat for robust and diverse wildlife populations. Their awe-inspiring landscapes help define us as a nation. These lands are too important to turn over to a man who wants to sell them to the highest bidder. William Perry Pendley’s appointment at the BLM should be revoked.