The Trump Administration’s effort to crush the federal civil service has hit the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) hard. The BLM manages nearly 250 million acres of public land, an astonishingly diverse landscape of mountains, forests, deserts, grasslands and steppes.
BLM is supposed to operate under a Congressional mandate for “multiple use,” striking a balance between recreation, grazing, timber, energy, and wildlife and wilderness protection. Under Interior Secretary Bernhardt, BLM has ripped up any semblance of a balanced approach to public lands management in favor of oil, mining and grazing interests.
Consider that the administration has –
- Shrunk National Monuments, opening large swaths of what had been BLM conservation lands to mining and drilling;
- Appointed as acting director a self-described Sagebrush Rebel who has spent his career seeking to sell off federal lands – and is unqualified to exercise the power of the Director; and
- Banished the BLM Headquarters from Washington DC, proposing to rapidly move it to Grand Junction, Colorado, which does not even offer a direct flight to DC;
This means that our public lands are being degraded by –
- An “Energy Dominance” doctrine that gives away extraction permits for peanuts and leaves vast stretches of America’s wildlands as cleared drilling sites and potentially toxic areas;
- Personnel decisions that focus on oil and gas development and weaken responsible range management and the bureau’s other conservation missions;
- Reduced fees for grazing in arid Western rangelands transforming a huge area into overgrazed wastelands, with permittees paying laughably low rates for their cattle and sheep; and
- Evisceration of BLM’s law enforcement program, leaving our vast legacy of natural and cultural resources vulnerable to looting and destruction.
BLM under Trump/Bernhardt has become a major driver of climate change. Our public lands, through drilling, mining, livestock, logging and other extractive uses, account for about a quarter of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. Obama-era efforts requiring agencies to begin minimizing their carbon footprints have been reversed by an unremitting series of sweeping new Executive Orders.
In short, the future of the planet is being adversely affected by BLM’s capture by moneyed interests.
As PEER’s Senior Counsel, one of my areas of focus has been mismanagement at the Department of the Interior. I have closely tracked the personnel changes at the top of the agency and filed a complaint with the Inspector General about actions taken on BLM Sage-grouse Management Plans back when Brian Steed was acting as the Director. I have worked with Congressional staff on ways to challenge how Trump/Bernhardt are running BLM and other Interior bureaus. And I am actively representing a Nevada BLM range manager, who was improperly removed, in an appeal to the federal Merit Systems Protection Board — and advising some others who are hanging in there but on the verge of being removed.
As we enter a new election cycle, advancing proposals to reform BLM is a priority of ours. This will take not only a new political mandate but also the engagement of longsuffering embattled staff and enlistment of its retirees. Leading this turn-around from within the BLM field offices, conservation areas, and monuments is part of the PEER mission. We need to hear directly from BLM staff on how you are affected by what is going on. We are particularly interested in seeing what the new acting Director, William Pendley, is saying in his written orders and directives to staff — so that we can challenge him.
I am proud to be working with the only organization that galvanizes conscientious public servants as agents of change. PEER and the beleaguered BLM workforce need your support now more than ever.
Peter Jenkins, JD