FORT COLLINS — Acting Bureau of Land Management Director William Perry Pendley, speaking at a conference Friday, insisted that moving his agency’s headquarters to Colorado will make the staff more responsive to the public despite concerns that public involvement is being curtailed.
Pendley, a longtime Colorado resident and attorney who has argued against federal lands protections, spoke at the Society of Environmental Journalists' annual conference in Fort Collins. He said Interior Secretary David Bernhardt wants to move the BLM’s top executives to the West to ensure the public is heard on decisions on public lands.
“The decision-makers in Washington, that’s where it’s centralized. And I’m afraid they’re out of touch with what’s going on out on the land,” Pendley said.
He said 222 positions in Washington, D.C., will move out to the states where the BLM lands are to do “headquarters work in the states.”
“And I think what it’s going to do is allow us to be closer to the people, closer to the ground. We’ll be able to make earlier, better-informed decisions based on the realities on the ground,” Pendley added.
BLM will move its headquarters and 27 top staffers to Grand Junction, while other Washington-based staffers will transfer to the Federal Center campus in Lakewood and other offices in the West.
Although billed as an effort to be closer to communities and people affected by decisions about BLM lands, which are leased for recreation, livestock grazing, mining and drilling, the agency has been criticized for making it more difficult for the public to have input into decisions about public lands.
State officials are protesting a proposed resource management plan for a big swath of southwest Colorado on grounds that it doesn’t adequately address protection of wildlife, including the Gunnison sage grouse, which is listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.
State officials have also voiced concerns about the increased greenhouse-gas emissions that would result from the oil and gas development projected in the plan.
Gunnison County commissioners also protested the plan that would guide management decisions for BLM lands in Delta, Gunnison, Mesa, Montrose, Ouray, and San Miguel counties. Commissioner John Messner said after years of working with local communities and other interest groups on an updated management plan for the area, the BLM unexpectedly included a new proposal for development that it identified as its preferred alternative. Local officials and the public didn’t have an opportunity to weigh in, he said.
“While conceptually the BLM is moving west to be closer to the people and lands, they’re actually minimizing opportunities for local governments to engage in their policies and plans,” Messner said.
He added that BLM is not following its own policies and procedures for public input.
Last year, the Colorado BLM office pulled proposed oil and gas leases from a sale after former Gov. John Hickenlooper and Sen. Michael Bennet questioned the potential impacts on wildlife and objected to changes by the national BLM office. The changes shortened the time periods for public comment and revised requirements for environmental review in efforts to streamline and speed up the leasing process.
During the conference Friday, Pendley said he rejected the premise that BLM decision-making has become more concentrated in Washington.
“We are allowing public comments,” Pendley said. “The bottom line at the end of the day, everyone knows who’s going to file a protest. We all know. And the fact that we ask that the protests be filed in a more timely way so we can move forward and make a decision that benefits everybody, I think that’s all good news.”
As president of Lakewood-based Mountain States Legal Foundation, Pendley championed private property rights. The firm, according to its website, takes on “big government agencies, well-funded liberal special interest groups, or unaccountable bureaucrats.”