Guest Column

Aligning with the Anti-Public Land Fringe

Steve Daines is shirking his responsibility as our senator to protect public lands for the good of Montanans and other Americans

A Montana Public Radio reporter recently asked Montana Sen. Steve Daines about William Perry Pendley, who was named by Interior Secretary David Bernhardt last month as acting director of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) despite the fact that Pendley is an outspoken advocate for selling off all public lands.

That’s right: A man now overseeing 250 million acres of public lands across the country, including more than 8 million acres here in Montana, would rather the public not even own those lands.

In response to the reporter’s question, Daines called the concerns that Montanans have about Pendley “overblown.”

“I’ve not found a reason to be against him,” he said.

His response to the question about Pendley, and his full-throated support for David Bernhardt, indicates that Daines is shirking his responsibility as our senator to protect public lands for the good of Montanans and other Americans.

Daines sits on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee (SENR), the committee charged with overseeing the Department of the Interior (DOI), which houses the BLM. As our senator and a member of the SENR, Daines is responsible for helping ensure that the management of our public lands is in trustworthy hands – in the hands of people who are going to put the public good ahead of special interests.

It’s hard to imagine anyone less trustworthy or more conflicted for any job at the BLM, let alone its top position, than Pendley. Pendley has dedicated much of his career to suing the DOI on behalf of the oil and gas industry as president of the Mountain States Legal Foundation, which also sued Montana in 2000 in an attempt to overturn our stream access law. Perhaps most alarmingly, Pendley expressed sympathy for Cliven Bundy when he led an armed standoff against law enforcement representing the very agency that Pendley now oversees.

There are perhaps hundreds of highly qualified people Bernhardt could have chosen for this position, but he hired someone whose views are an affront to the millions of Americans who cherish our public lands.

We have every reason to believe that Pendley will tailor his decisions to benefit industry at the expense of wildlife, water, and our $7 billion outdoor recreation economy, as we’ve already seen with two draft plans for BLM lands in central and western Montana. We can also expect that he will disregard public input on the future of public lands and will do what he can to cripple the BLM, something that is already underway with Pendley’s enthusiastic support in moving highly trained, career BLM employees from Washington to Grand Junction, Colorado, where they will not be able to do the national-level work they were hired to do.

Though he says he’s opposed to disposing of public lands, Daines’ response to Pendley makes us extremely concerned about where his sympathies actually lie, with Montanans or with the radical, anti-public land fringe that Pendley represents. That concern is compounded by the fact that Daines recently spoke alongside someone else who represents that fringe – Karen Budd-Falen, Bundy’s former lawyer and current acting assistant secretary of Fish, Wildlife, and Parks at DOI.

By hiring Budd-Falen and Pendley, Interior Secretary Bernhardt has made it clear that he has little interest in managing public lands for the good of Montanans and other Americans, and that he is not afraid to align with the radical fringe that wants to put an end to the public ownership of lands.

Sadly, at a time when Montanans need Daines to stand up to Bernhardt, Pendley, and other dangerous public land officials, Daines is providing them cover to carry out decisions inflicting untold harm on our public lands and outdoor way of life.

Rick Waldrup, of Dillon, was a recreation planner in the Bureau of Land Management’s Dillon Field Office and currently works as a hunting and fishing guide. Roger Otstot, of Billings, was an economist with the Bureau of Reclamation.