The Recording the Feds Tried to Hide Reveals Parts of the Plan

By Kelly Fuller, Western Watersheds Project

You gotta say one thing for folks who share the views of Karen Budd-Falen and the Bundys: They never miss a chance to push their agenda of turning your public lands over to their private profit-making interests. And they’ve gotten a lot craftier in how they do it.

The latest round is happening right now. David Bernhardt, Acting Secretary of the Department of the Interior, whom the U.S. Senate may confirm as Secretary of the Interior later this week, and Mark Gordon, the Governor of Wyoming, are reportedly in discussions to give the State of Wyoming much more influence in environmental decisions on federal land in the state.

Bernhardt’s Department of the Interior may authorize the Wyoming state government to lead environmental reviews of proposed decisions on federal land inside Wyoming. If Wyoming’s governor gets what he wants, state employees in Cheyenne could lead environmental reviews on public land that belongs to all Americans, not just people who live in Wyoming. State of Wyoming staffers could soon be writing the first drafts of the Department of the Interior’s approval decisions on federal lands in Wyoming.

It’s not hard to see how this could go wrong, given Wyoming’s dependence on fossil fuel revenues, including some from federal lands, to balance its budget. Coal, oil and gas revenues also provide some funding for state services available to Wyoming residents, who pay no state personal income tax.

But make no mistake. It’s not just the State of Wyoming that wants to put its thumb on the scale when the Department of the Interior makes decisions about America’s public lands. Lawmakers in other states and counties are eager to do that too.

A recording of a conference call the Bureau of Land Management had with a privileged few in fall 2017 makes clear what’s at stake – so much so that the Department of the Interior didn’t want you to listen to it. Western Watersheds Project first had to file a Freedom of Information Act request and then sue Interior to get it.

The recording came from a September 2017 invitation-only conference call during which the Bureau of Land Management told state and local governments about the agency’s desire to

  • Speed up and shrink federal environmental reviews, not just for infrastructure projects but also for changes livestock grazing permittees want to make to public land;
  • End environmental review entirely for some types of projects (which ones remain unspecified);
  • Decrease requirements that BLM consult with federal wildlife agencies about Endangered Species Act-listed plants and wildlife;
  • Increase the influence of state and local governments on federal environmental analysis by conforming federal land management to state and local plans that frequently boost commodity production at the expense of native wildlife and a healthy environment;
  • Restrict the public’s ability to obtain government records through Freedom of Information Act requests;
  • Reduce or eliminate the ability of public-interest groups to be reimbursed for attorneys’ fees after courts find that the BLM has violated federal law;
  • Reduce public notice for certain changes to BLM Resource Management Plans by approving them using environmental assessments rather than environmental impact statements (which changes remain unspecified);
  • Reduce protections on lands the BLM manages for wilderness characteristics (which protections remain unspecified);
  • Change the process for creating Areas of Environmental Concern;
  • Give counties more say in BLM environmental reviews;
  • Reduce National Historic Preservation Act review; and
  • Reduce BLM Washington oversight of in-state BLM environmental analyses and decisions.

This blueprint to gut environmental protections and give more influence over land-use decisions to state and local governments comes straight out of the Karen Budd-Falen playbook for co-opting federal land management for the benefit of commercial interests. Budd-Falen, an apologist for Cliven Bundy’s armed conflicts with federal agencies, was peddling these ideas to local governments right up to the time that she landed an influential position inside the Department of Interior. These ideas explicitly call for handing over control of our western public lands to local politicians who, in many cases, are explicitly at odds with the conservation priorities of the real landowners – the American people.

According to BLM staff and call participants, these anti-federal, anti-conservation ideas have support from certain state and local governments. This does not bode well for what will happen if Acting Secretary Bernhardt does indeed let state governments write the first draft of environmental reviews.

What can you do if you don’t think these plans should be carried out? Contact your Representative and Senators in Congress! Let them know that you don’t think the Department of the Interior should be allowed to shirk its responsibility to conduct accurate and honest environmental reviews, much less hand over control of federal public lands to state and local governments. Ask them to vigorously exercise their oversight authority to keep a close eye on Interior, especially if David Bernhardt is confirmed as Secretary.

Kelly Fuller is the Energy and Mining Campaign Director for Western Watersheds Project, a nonprofit environmental conservation organization working to protect and restore watersheds and wildlife across the West.

About The Author

Kelly Fuller

Kelly Fuller is the Energy and Mining Campaign Director for Western Watersheds Project, a nonprofit environmental conservation organization working to protect and restore watersheds and wildlife across the West.

11 Responses to They’re Coming to Steal Your Public Lands. Again.

  1. idaursine says:

    I really have to wonder how much autonomy an ‘acting’ Interior Secretary should have? Pretty devious; get all your dirty deals done before a confirmation is even complete. And it should all count against him. 🙁

    • Ralph Maughan says:

      Unfortunately, he is now the Secretary of Interior. He got it in the tightest vote ever for confirmation to that office.

  2. Bruce Bowen says:

    Government oversight went down with the Reagan/Watt administration. Republicans will not go along and Democrats are mostly interested in who is jogging for president at the present. Agencies are not really going to do their job anyway. Conservation organizations badly need to rethink their approach.

    Ideally, existing legislation like the Rangelands Improvement Act (1978) should be amended so that fair market forage value could be calculated for public lands. This is not an ideal time. I’d say if you write to a representative or senator-pull out the stops. Demand that grazing be reduced (both sacred cows and horses and burros) by 50%. Demand they pass a Sage Grouse ‘rebellion’ act which would not permit any resource extraction in greater sage grouse habitat. Period! Demand that any body commandeering a wildlife refuge be jailed for life. You have nothing to lose.

    Imagine what would have happened if some native Americans took over a wildlife refuge. They would have been shot on sight or and fed to the dogs.

    Don’t do anything to enable the “nutzos”. We have plenty of injustice to go around already.

  3. idaursine says:

    “Sage grouse rebellion”. I love it. 🙂


April 2019


‎"At some point we must draw a line across the ground of our home and our being, drive a spear into the land and say to the bulldozers, earthmovers, government and corporations, “thus far and no further.” If we do not, we shall later feel, instead of pride, the regret of Thoreau, that good but overly-bookish man, who wrote, near the end of his life, “If I repent of anything it is likely to be my good behaviour."

~ Edward Abbey

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