Guest commentary: Judge’s removal of William Pendley from BLM role confirms concerns of outdoor recreation community

Noble Horvath

During the nearly four years of the Trump administration, there has never been a U.S. Senate-confirmed director of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). Mountain bikers, climbers, hikers, boaters, hunters and public land users of all types have been extremely concerned as I have been about acting director William Perry […]

During the nearly four years of the Trump administration, there has never been a U.S. Senate-confirmed director of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). Mountain bikers, climbers, hikers, boaters, hunters and public land users of all types have been extremely concerned as I have been about acting director William Perry Pendley, who until Sept. 25 was in charge of deciding what public lands look like at the BLM.

As the result of a lawsuit filed by Montana Gov. Steve Bullock (one of several), a federal judge ordered Pendley to leave his position as head of the BLM immediately, after finding that he had served in the post unlawfully for 14 months.

The ruling validates the apprehensions of many outdoor lovers and the businesses like mine that rely on consumers having access to open spaces and trails. Pendley’s track record of expressing anti-public lands views rendered him completely unfit for a job which oversees 247 million acres of public land in 12 western states. This land contains some of my favorite mountain biking areas including iconic landscapes such as southern Utah’s red rock country, the towering vistas of California’s Owen’s Valley, and the Basin and Range deserts in Nevada. Under Pendley’s watch, nothing less than the health, diversity, and productivity of these public lands for the use and enjoyment of present and future generations has been at stake.

Among his many non-qualifications, Pendley has promoted the illegal extermination of endangered species protected by federal law, has fought to undo protections for Native American sacred sites, and supported the largest removal of conservation protections for national monument lands.

Most fundamentally, Pendley does not believe in the public land system he was unofficially managing. For 30 years as president of the Mountain States Legal Foundation, Pendley advocated that federal public lands be sold to the highest bidder or transferred to states to be sold later. He supported the armed militants who for 41 days illegally occupied the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon, claiming it was the federal rangers who had “run amok.” Pendley is a self-identified Sagebrush Rebel, a movement supporting the disposal of federal public lands to states and private interests, and the development of such lands for mining, timber harvesting — among other activities — for private benefit. Not exactly the right person to support the BLM’s multiple use mission.

Pendley’s position hurt me on a personal level and his continued leadership role had the potential to hurt my business and any other businesses that create products designed to be enjoyed on public lands. This threat is not insignificant. Nationwide, the growing outdoor recreation economy that relies on access to protected public lands supports over 7.6 million jobs, producing $887 billion in consumer spending every year.

The specific point of law that removed Pendley is that his name has never been submitted to the U.S. Senate for confirmation. In fact, according to the judge, Pendley’s authority “did not follow any of the permissible paths set forth by the U.S. Constitution.” I find it fitting that due to Interior’s legal shenanigans leading to Pendley’s unlawful temporary stay, Interior now faces the reversal of all of the decisions that Pendley made to open up the American West to oil and gas drilling.

But this is not over. Interior’s self-righteous response was to appeal the decision immediately. For now, this is a great victory for public lands protection in a time when communities across the West are crying out for more recreation opportunities as part of their economic development strategies and to meet the needs for outdoor recreation created by the pandemic; a victory for millions of Americans who rely upon BLM lands for their health, contact with nature, recreation, community economic development and individual jobs.

Let us be grateful but keep a watchful eye on any next deceitful developments that may come from whatever is left of the Trump administration.

Adam Miller is the owner of Why Cycles, a high-end titanium bicycle manufacturer, and Revel Bikes, a full-suspension mountain bike company. Miller chose to locate his businesses in Carbondale to live and work in a place that supports the products they make.

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