For Immediate Release: Tuesday, June 22, 2021
Contact: Kirsten Stade firstname.lastname@example.org
BLM Migratory Bird Whistleblower in More Hot Water
Vendetta against Veteran Environmental Analyst Takes Strange New Turn
Washington, DC — A U.S. Bureau of Land Management environmental analyst who had been facing a proposed termination since mid-February was relieved to see all charges dropped. That same day, however, he was served with a new proposal for termination based on the same issues, according to documents posted by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).
Walter Loewen, an environmental analyst with the Wyoming office of the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM), got crosswise with senior officials because he insisted on raising concerns about loss of nesting sites for ferruginous hawks, kestrels, owls, and other raptors from a plan for 5,000 oil and gas wells, 1,400 miles of gas and water pipelines, new roads, and electrical lines in Converse County. BLM compounded those concerns by removing key restrictions on drilling and other work during bird breeding and nesting periods.
In response, BLM Wyoming Branch Chief for Planning, Social, and Cultural Resources, Jennifer Fleuret McConchie, stripped most of Walter Loewen’s duties and then hit him with a proposed removal from federal service for poor performance on February 19, 2021. PEER took on Mr. Loewen as a client and filed a defense that, among other objections, made three points:
- BLM’s performance case was based upon Trump standards that had been invalidated;
- The designated independent deciding official was intimately involved in the Converse County project and, thus, could not legally serve in that capacity; and
- Mr. Loewen was legally required to raise these issues – that was his job.
The new 20-page proposed termination designates a different deciding official (from BLM Idaho) while transforming the same facts arising the previous summer in a very convoluted fashion into acts of misconduct rather than poor performance.
“Reading her proposal makes me extremely glad that I do not work for Jennifer McConchie,” remarked PEER Senior Counsel Peter Jenkins, noting the months of official dithering that has left Loewen in professional limbo. “I think BLM is trying to fire the wrong official because the only misconduct here is mismanagement.”
Earlier this year, the Biden administration scrapped the Trump policy of allowing the unintended killing of migratory birds by industry operations, precisely what would have happened in the Converse County oil project. Meanwhile, the BLM itself is in a leadership transition.
“Moving forward, the BLM will need conscientious employees like Walter Loewen if it is to truly start fulfilling its legal mandate,” added Jenkins. “BLM’s environmental analysts should not have to endure the torture of the damned just to do their jobs.”