You may know that the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) manages 245 million acres of federal land, 10 percent of the country, for “multiple use,” including recreational activities, wildlife management, grazing, mining, logging and importantly the preservation of wilderness areas, national monuments and wild and scenic rivers.
You may also know the BLM manages 700 million acres of subsurface resources; the development of which has helped make America a net exporter of oil and gas in September for the first time since 1949!
You may know, too, that 99.99 percent of BLM’s land is in 11 western states and the state of Alaska, as are 97 percent of BLM employees who work there, coordinating with governors, local elected officials, stakeholders and their neighbors.
But here is what you likely do not know. Hold onto your hats, these are stunners:
- The BLM manages 88,000 wild horses and burros, mostly in Nevada but also in neighboring western states, BUT the top officials who run that program are in Washington, D.C.
- The BLM leases land for energy development in New Mexico’s Permian Basin, the hottest area in the Lower 48 for these activities, BUT the officials who oversee that program are in Washington, D.C.
- The BLM operates a $1 billion alternative energy program in California, BUT the officials who approve these projects are in Washington, D.C.
That’s right. While the BLM’s most knowledgeable, on-the-ground, experienced experts are closest to the resources they manage, the most senior officials who lead these initiatives are two and often three or four time zones away. In fact, many of the BLM’s most senior officials are in Washington, D.C. making decisions based on a piece of paper, a photograph and a map.
Meanwhile in the West, governors, senators, representatives and locals complain that the BLM is understaffed and disconnected from decisions being made in Washington. That is the case even as the BLM’s duties grow, not only to increase recreational opportunities for all Americans, but also to provide jobs to support schools, hospitals and law enforcement.
Confronted by these facts, Interior Secretary David Bernhardt approved our plans to delegate more responsibility to the field by sending the top decision makers out West to better meet the needs of the American people. For Westerners, it is a no-brainer.
I understand that neither Secretary Bernhardt nor I could convince everyone, but the vitriol leveled against the decision has been mindboggling.
Eleven members of Congress, with fewer than 2,500 acres of BLM among their districts, assert that our senior staff should remain here.
Meanwhile, Natural Resources Chairman Raul M. Grijalva (D-Ariz.) said he was going to issue subpoenas. Why? It’s hard to speculate given every time he or any of his colleagues asked to be briefed, we complied often accompanied by stacks of supporting documents. In fact, Secretary Bernhardt has a standing offer to meet with the chairman on the matter at any time, yet the chairman has refused to meet.
Now, two former BLM directors penned an op-ed in Politico that contains untruths, innuendo and material misrepresentations, including:
- Despite the open way we have discussed the move, the thousands of words we have expended detailing it, and the boxes of documents we have provided in support of it, they falsely label it a “stealth plan” that was “below the radar;”
- Despite our policy to retain public lands, they incorrectly assert the BLM’s land is “quietly being taken away from [the American people];”
- Despite senior career BLM officials, including the BLM’s deputy director, assistant directors and state directors helping to decide the best location for all positions to best serve national, state and local needs, they wrongly blame “political appointees”;
- Despite filling scores of important positions that have remained vacant for years because the experts needed by BLM do not want to work in Washington, D.C., they inaccurately say we plan to “dismantle the organization” and “destroy the agency from the inside;” and
- Despite the director and a deputy director, along with a staff of nearly 40 senior decision makers moving to the new headquarters in Grand Junction, Colo., they disingenuously claim all decisions will be made by “politically appointed officials within the Office of the Secretary of the Interior,” without the BLM’s involvement.
Boiled down, this kerfuffle is about people who seek to retain their special access — that is, their ability to travel to Washington, meet with top BLM officials far from the lands they manage and demand their allegiance to the special interests that try to run Washington, D.C.
They can still meet with us. We’ll just be in Grand Junction.
William Perry Pendley is acting director of the Bureau of Land Management.