Back to Stories

Putting Pendley In Charge Of BLM Reveals Trump's True Radical Agenda For The West?

Columnist Tim Crawford says if you worried about former Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, Pendley is more frightening

William Perry Pendley, picked by President Donald Trump to oversee the Bureau of Land Management.
William Perry Pendley, picked by President Donald Trump to oversee the Bureau of Land Management.
Can a modern country whose economic development is based upon extractive industries exploitive and damaging to the environment change its thinking and practices in order to curb its contribution to global climate change? This is the crux of the challenge we face.

And can our leaders in charge recognize how public lands and environmental laws have made us a greater nation?

I've learned as a life-long businessman that you shouldn't create messes you can't afford to clean up.

I am writing from my home in Montana where the state Constitution here assures in no uncertain terms: “The state and each person shall maintain and improve a clean and healthful environment in Montana for present and future generations.” Authors of the Constitution, ratified by citizens in 1972, were writing in response to the rapacious legacy of the Anaconda Company and its Copper Kings. They transformed the slopes of Butte, once called “the richest hill on Earth,” into the nation’s largest Superfund site, whose cleanup will be neverending and be a menace to the health of untold future generations.

I am also writing at a moment in time when healthy public lands, by simply being there, are recognized as economic drivers for Bozeman, the fastest-growing micropolitan city in the U.S.  So alluring is the setting of Gallatin County that Montana’s lone Congressman Greg Gianforte decided to relocate his company, RightNow Technologies, to Bozeman because he wanted to live here and because he knew a healthy environment would attract top fight employees.  One of Gianforte’s employees was Bozeman High School grad, now a U.S. Senator, who came back to town to work for Gianforte before seeking public office. 

Puzzling to me is how both Gianforte and Daines have joined in with the Trump Administration in pushing to weaken landmark environmental laws responsible for the very health of our public lands. They seem to be implying the highest and best use of public lands is reverting back to the mindset of the Copper King era. 

As neighboring Wyoming’s economy, dependent on open pit coal mining, is perched on the edge of a free fall as the market for coal shrinks, Gianforte and Daines, the self-described high-tech mavens, seemed to have learned nothing.

Both are avidly supportive of not only Trump Administration attacks on environmental protection but some of the President’s political appointees whose ideology is sympathetic to selling off public lands and making them available to the equivalent of 21stcentury robber barons who again will treat the West as a natural resource colony.

Montana was the last state to have foresighted campaign finance laws guarding against companies like Anaconda buying elections but they were lost in the wake of the Citizens United verdict. Corporations now have most of the prerogatives of “personhood” yet no one person in those said corporations ever seems to be held accountable for actions that degrade public lands and foist huge liabilities on taxpayers and future generations.

Big Pharma (profiting off us getting sick), huge hi-tech companies (causing people to lose their jobs to robots and producing gadgets that anesthetize our senses), industrial-sized insurance firms (sizing up customers’ worth based on actuarial tables), and of course fossil-fuel energy businesses easily come to mind as existential threats to the welfare of most Americans. 

Also in that list come all of the natural resource industries—timber, precious metals, coal, and to some degree, grazing. You may have heard how Acting Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt, in what can only be seen as a second tier appointment, recently named William Perry Pendley acting Director of the Bureau of Land Management. The move required no approval from the Senate and Pendley's appointment may last only until this autumn.

Daines claims concerns about Pendley are "overblown" but how can he ignore the symbolism of the move, putting an anti-public lands ideologue in place to oversee public lands that figure at the heart of Western identity?

Historically, Pendley hostile attitude toward public land and federal land management has been demonstrated over years, as a force with the Mountain States Legal Foundation, which has advocated for getting rid of our federal public patrimony.  Recently, in the Bozeman Daily Chronicle, an op-ed written by Ben Gabriel of the Montana Wilderness Association and Dave Chadwick of the Montana Wildlife Federation came with this headline: “Would we put an arsonist in charge of fire department?”

In a separate piece, New York Times columnist Timothy Egan wrote an essay titled “The Great Western Public Land Robbery” and subtitled “Trump’s pick to be the steward of America’s public lands doesn’t believe in public lands.”

“The gallery of awful human beings, monumental incompetents, wife-beaters, frauds and outright criminals appointed to high positions in the Trump administration is large and varied. As wanted posters, they would fill an entire post office wall,” Egan wrote.

“But you have to go pretty deep into the ranks of the Worst People to find someone equal to the man Donald Trump has now put in charge of your public lands — William Perry Pendley. The man now overseeing 245 million acres owned by every American citizen is a mad-dog opponent of the very idea of shared space in the great outdoors. He has spent his professional life chipping away — in court, in public forums, in statehouses — at one of the most cherished of American birthrights.”

And let us not forget former government public land manager Barry Reiswig’s warning in   Mountain Journal two years ago about the real agenda of those now in power.

“The Founding Fathers intended all lands owned by the federal government to be sold,” Pendley wrote distorting history in a National Review magazine article in 2016. 

If not to steer the BLM in the direction of his ideological radicalism, they why appoint Pendley at all?

“The Founding Fathers intended all lands owned by the federal government to be sold,” Pendley wrote distorting history in a National Review magazine article in 2016. If not to steer the BLM in the direction of his ideological radicalism, they why appoint Pendley at all?
Although Pendley has no authority himself to sell off public land by fiat, he is certainly in a position to sell leases to resource extraction corporations at favorable below “market value” and however small disproportionate return to the real owners may be. The expression “cat bird seat” comes to mind in his relationship to industries hungering to exploit public land resources.

We can only presume that the BLM, under Pendley’s “oversight,” will comply with the recent diminished revamping of the Endangered Species Act. The probability of a court injunction against this new natural disgrace will probably meet with an official posture of enforcement yet without vigor. 
Graphic courtesy Bureau of Land Management
Graphic courtesy Bureau of Land Management
Pendley’s record of enmity toward the natural state of our public lands will undoubtedly result in greater economical development of fossil fuels in line with President Trump’s desire for global dominance. And he will try to resurrect coal.  Thus, as naturally as corporate investment follows natural resource treasure, further climate change will follow to the ultimate detriment of life on our planet, directly analogous to how the Copper Kings left Butte.

It is time that we stop the compromise in accommodating climate change deniers and qualifiers, and demand real change in our methods and goals if serious about averting the slowly accelerating demise of our planet.

I am a business-minded conservationist and there are many like me who take their responsibility to land and community seriously. Land protection, as demonstrated in several analyses by Bozeman-based Headwaters Economics, has proven itself to be good for local economies. It's not just use of the public lands themselves but people want to live close to healthy landscapes.

How could it happen that Mr. Pendley was put in charge of hundreds of millions of acres of land we own and what's the antidote?

Thinking beyond short term bottom lines and election cycles is absolutely necessary. A measure of societal discomfort in shifting away from fossil fuels is surely better than short term comfort in a rising stew of climate temperatures. If our elected misrepresentatives are not amenable to public demand, then it is the electorate’s responsibility to throw them out. Changing out the modern bandits cannot come too soon.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Mountain Journal welcomes well-written rebuttals, informed by facts, to essays written by our columnists. If you are interested in penning one, contact us.
Tim Crawford
About Tim Crawford

Tim Crawford once served as a city commissioner in the resort town of Ketchum, Idaho as it contended with growth. Today, he is a downtown Bozeman businessman, a Gallatin Valley farmer, professional photographer and lifelong conservationist who loves to hunt and fish.
Increase our impact by sharing this story.
Defending Nature

Defend Truth &
Wild Places