Editor’s Note: This special op-ed is by Rose Marcario, the president and CEO of Patagonia, and Land Tawney, president and CEO of the nonprofit conservation group Backcountry Hunters & Anglers.
William Perry Pendley needs to leave D.C. for Christmas and not return to his job afterward.
The U.S.’s 640 million acres of public lands and waters belong to all of us. Whether you love to hunt, fish, hike, or canoe—or just like to have a quiet place to stargaze—our public lands and waters are there to enjoy. Though most of us can agree that these wild places need protection, their future depends on constant citizen engagement and, of course, strong leadership.
That’s why the recent appointment of William Perry Pendley as the acting head of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is an affront to public-land users of all stripes. Pendley, the former head of the conservative law firm Mountain States Legal Foundation, has built a career on trying to weaken federal land-management agencies and outright eliminate all public lands—and yet he’s now tasked with administering millions of acres of land and waters.
Pendley’s term as acting BLM director, which began in July, is set to expire on January 3. There’s a lot broken in Washington, to be sure, but Pendley will make things worse if he remains in office, by working against the public’s best interest and by jeopardizing our public lands and waters further than he already has.
In 2016, Pendley wrote that, in his view, the government should sell its Western lands—an extreme position that few politicians would dare espouse if they didn’t want to get voted out of office. Moreover, in 2017, when President Trump undermined the integrity of the Antiquities Act, one of our most important conservation tools, and opened up public lands to industrial development, Pendley argued that the President hadn’t been aggressive enough. He has been making similar attacks on public lands for decades.
In Pendley’s role at the BLM, he has the power to shape resource management plans and open wildlife migration corridors to oil and gas development in places like the Red Desert of Wyoming. In his brief time in office, he has already sped up the Trump administration’s efforts to roll back plans to conserve the Western sagebrush steppe, which is home to hundreds of wildlife species, including the greater sage grouse. Pendley’s misguided decisions not only affect 51 million acres of high-quality habitat in sagebrush country and some of the best hunting and hiking in the country, but they also undermine management plans developed over years of close consultation between scientists, ranchers, hunters, and state and local officials.
Should Pendley retain his post past January 3, expect him to advance the energy industry’s efforts to drill in the incomparable Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, home to caribou and Arctic grayling, along with the Gwich’in indigenous people. Even one of the biggest oil companies in the world, BP, has decided it’s not good business to drill in the refuge.
It doesn’t have to be this way. Protecting our public lands and waters is the right thing to do—and it’s good politics. A recent survey found that 65 percent of voters in the Mountain West wants Congress to protect our water, air, wildlife, and opportunities for outdoor recreation on public lands, compared to just 24 percent who would prioritize energy production on public lands. Nearly all Western voters polled—87 percent—indicated that the outdoor economy is important to the future of their state. Earlier this year, Congress listened to the people and passed the most important conservation legislation in a decade, expanding wilderness areas, bolstering public-access programs, and conserving important lands and rivers. The measure enjoyed such strong bipartisan support, in fact, that it was veto-proof, with a vote of 92–8 in the Senate and 363–62 in the House.
Pendley’s appointment, at the very least, sends a chilling message to the public-land managers and career natural-resource employees who work for him. These dedicated public servants deserve our support and qualified leadership.
To build on this progress and to stop Pendley from running amok, the Senate should demand that he be removed from his post—or at the very least demand that he be officially nominated as BLM director and thus be subject to the full Congressional confirmation process. The time to act is now, before Pendley’s tenure is extended, as it has once been before. We need to work together, and Congress needs to listen to the people, to ensure that his time at the BLM comes to an end.
Hunters and hikers may not see eye-to-eye on every issue, but we agree on this: America’s public lands and waters are a national treasure to be conserved and passed down, not pillaged and developed for the highest bidder. Use your voice today and tell your Senators that the Bureau of Land Management deserves better. ♦
Rose Marcario is the president and CEO of Patagonia. Land Tawney is the president and CEO of Backcountry Hunters & Anglers. Contact your senators and ask them to reject Pendley as BLM head here.
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