The Arsonist in Charge of the Fire Department

Montanans have every reason to be alarmed by William Perry Pendley overseeing 250 million acres of public land

By Ben Gabriel and Dave Chadwick

Imagine for one unsettling moment what it would mean to Montana if Glacier, Yellowstone, the Bob Marshall, the Beartooth Mountains, and all other lands and waters belonging to the American people were sold off.

It would spell the end of our outdoor way of life, including our ability to hike, hunt, fish, mountain bike, and snowmobile; send our economy off of a cliff; and ruin the livelihood of our family ranchers.

Who in their right mind would advocate for something so destructive as selling off our public lands?

Believe it or not, the new acting director of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has done exactly that. Interior Secretary David Bernhardt appointed William Perry Pendley to this position despite Pendley’s longtime advocacy for selling off all of our national public lands.

Pendley now oversees 250 million acres of public lands across the U.S., including 8 million acres in Montana. The Upper Missouri River Breaks National Monument, the Centennial Mountains, and the Big Hole and Blackfoot watersheds: these are just a few of the revered places now under the control of someone who wants to sell them off.

Montanans have every reason to be alarmed. Appointing Pendley as chief of the BLM is almost as appalling as hiring a known arsonist to run the local fire department. Even if the arsonist had the skills to run the department, how could anyone, except fellow arsonists, think such a person is a sound choice?

Pendley’s last job was president of the Mountain States Legal Foundation. This foundation regularly sues the Interior Department, which houses the BLM, on behalf of industry interests that want to close off public access so they can develop public lands for their own profits. In this role, Pendley recently served as lead counsel for Solenex, a Louisiana oil company hell bent on drilling in the Badger-Two Medicine despite the fact that this area is sacred to the Blackfeet Nation and that the Interior Department acknowledged that it had illegally issued its lease to Solenex in the 1980s.

Of course, Pendley could not single-handedly sell off the lands he now oversees, but he is in a prime position to severely damage the BLM’s ability to do the job of caring for our public lands on behalf of all Americans. The more damage he inflicts, the easier it will be for the likes of Pendley to argue that the federal government is ill-equipped to manage public lands and should therefore sell them off.

In the meantime, he can and will privatize these lands in every way except transferring the deed. He’ll cut the public out of decision-making, and he’ll give extractive industries control of millions of acres of land at the expense of clean water, wildlife, public access, and our $7 billion outdoor recreation economy.

Interior Secretary Bernhardt has not formally nominated Pendley for this position because he knows Pendley’s views would never survive the scrutiny of a Senate hearing.

Thankfully, Montana Sen. Jon Tester has spoken out against the appointment of Pendley. So far, Montana Sen. Steve Daines, who has said he opposes transferring or selling off public lands, has remained silent. Even more troubling, he’ll be speaking at an event in September alongside another public land transfer advocate and longtime foe of the Interior Department: Karen Budd-Falen, the acting assistant secretary for Fish, Wildlife and Parks.

For the sake of our economy and our outdoor way of life, we need Daines to call on Bernhardt to remove Pendley from the BLM now. The longer Pendley stays, the more damage he will do to Montana and our way of life.

Ben Gabriel is executive director of Montanan Wilderness Association. Dave Chadwick is executive director of Montana Wildlife Federation.

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