William Perry Pendley Must Go

William Perry Pendley’s nomination to lead the Bureau of Land Management has been withdrawn and while President Trump offered no explanation for withdrawing Pendley’s nomination, it seems he didn’t have the votes necessary for Senate confirmation. The Senate Democrats were united against him and a few GOP Senators found themselves in an election year hot seat and being pressed to weigh in on Pendley’s unpopular position on selling off public lands (not to mention his record of racism and disdain for the “other” BLM, Black Lives Matter). 

Pendley was hostile to public lands and wildlife long before Trump installed him for his unlawfully-extended tenure as “Deputy Director acting in the capacity of Director” of the Bureau. His efforts to interfere with the public lands date back to his days as a livestock industry hired gun when he was working for the same Mountain States Legal Foundation that gave us former and infamously anti-environmental Secretaries of the Interior James Watt and Gale Norton. 

When, after two decades of his illegal livestock trespassing on public lands, Cliven Bundy burst onto the national scene with an armed insurrection in Bunkerville, Nevada in 2014, Pendley was sympathetic. He wrote in the National Review that westerners “were not surprised by the rancher uprising,” and he called for “another Sagebrush Rebellion.” In January of 2016, even as the Bundy sons and their rancher allies staged an armed occupation of Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, Pendley penned an opinion advocating for all federal lands to be sold. Rather than being marginalized for these extreme positions, President Trump promoted him to take charge of American’s largest public land agency.  

Pendley stepped into his role as public-lands-destroyer-in-chief with relish, fast-tracking the agency’s unpopular — and likely corrupt — move into an oil industry office complex in Grand Junction, Colorado. This move drained the agency of key staffers who might otherwise hold the line against the rampant exploitation of public lands that have been underway since Trump took office.  

Pendley has hijacked the Bureau’s priorities in other ways. Last September, Pendley made headlines by claiming wild horses were the Bureau’s number-one problem. Never mind the fact that wild horses are outnumbered at least fourteen to one by cattle on western public lands, or that livestock overgrazing and cheatgrass – a fire-prone invasive weed – is out of control across much of the 88 percent of western public lands where there isn’t a single wild horse. Never mind that fossil fuel extraction on public lands is fueling a climate crisis with global ramifications. Never mind the plight of the sage grouse, disappearing despite millions of taxpayer dollars and years of planning and research. Pendley doesn’t acknowledge these problems as issues for the Bureau because these problems are caused by the industries for which Pendley has been lobbying his entire career.

In November 2019, Pendley wrote in the Las Vegas Review-Journal that federal law enforcement should stand down, because “local law enforcement bears primary responsibility for enforcing state and federal law.” This policy statement explicitly put county sheriffs in charge of enforcing – or ignoring – federal laws on federal lands. It is a dangerous and reckless idea, and goes against longstanding interpretations of federal jurisdiction.   

The backlash against Pendley and his radical ideas has been building. It began on September 26, 2019, when a dozen leading Senators wrote to the Interior Secretary opposing Pendley’s continued role atop the Bureau. Then, in late December, 91 conservation groups demanded he step down. In May of 2020, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility and Western Watersheds Project sued to remove Pendley for overstaying interim director term limits, and Montana Governor Steve Bullock followed suit with a lawsuit of his own. Trump then decided to circumvent the lawsuit by nominating Pendley to the permanent position, but Pendley’s 2017 comments denigrating the Black Lives Matter movement resurfaced, and soon the writing was on the wall. The nomination was withdrawn, but Pendley remains at the helm in his unlawful “acting” capacity. 

It is clear that Pendley is a servant to the livestock industry and the fracking barons, rather than a public servant. His continued presence at an agency that manages much of the West is an offense to every American who loves public lands, cares about wildlife, or simply wants the beauty of wild landscapes to endure for generations to come. It’s high time for Pendley to pack his bags and move on.  


Erik Molvar is Executive Director of Western Watersheds Project, a nonprofit environmental conservation group working to protect and restore watersheds and wildlife throughout the West.




  1. Ralph Maughan Avatar
    Ralph Maughan

    Not to diminish this illegal appointment, there are many more appointments Trump has made by calling them “acting” this or that. They have not been approved by the US Senate, and mostly their names will never be. Meanwhile they are issuing orders, changing policy, and even appointing underlings to themselves.
    It seems to me that a series of lawsuits challenging what they have done might result in all of these unlawful acts being judged null and void by the federal courts.

    1. Chris Zinda Avatar
      Chris Zinda

      Entirely correct.

      This is an underappreciated constitutional crisis created by the inability for senate dems to coordinate with House appropriations to force Federal Vacancies Reform Act compliance, as this is beyond Pendley or Steed as you state.

      Instead, the Dems did more than nothing, but assisted through examples like funding the BLM HQ and many other federal agencies and their initiatives that will take an entire administration to correct (which could provide an opportunity).

      Finally, any lawsuit by other than Congress will fail, as only Congress has standing. And, I do not see them litigating.

  2. Maggie Frazier Avatar
    Maggie Frazier

    Seems more might be done to at least challenge the activities of these “acting” deputies all through the administration. Unless there is active & open disapproval of what these “actings” are doing & getting away with – it just skates along under the rug (so to speak) There are still far too many voters unaware of how far this administration & their enablers have already gone to completely change our government to what it was never meant to be. Removal of so many necessary regulations & what has been done & tried to do to the EPA? And not enough questioning of statements – obvious lies – when they are made!
    We all need to VOTE!!!

  3. Susan Barmeyer Avatar
    Susan Barmeyer

    Bravo! I believe President Trump named William Perry Pendley just to be outrageous and to garner attention.

  4. Susan Wittich Avatar
    Susan Wittich

    Pendley needs to stop what he is doing if his name has been withdrawn. He has just stepped up roundups and horses are dieing. Get him the hell out of BLM.

  5. Liz king Avatar
    Liz king

    Why is he not gone yet,dowe have to remove him physicall

  6. PS Avatar

    Mr Pendly and his supporters have done nothing to follow the Wild Horse and Burro Protection Act of 1971. They all, Especially Pendley, need to be held legally and judicially accountable, imprisoned with community service on the front lines cleanijng up blood and medicating the diseased

  7. Ida Lupine Avatar
    Ida Lupine

    Thank you, the Secretary of the Interior got his job this way, as Acting Secretary after Ryan Zinke resigned, although he seems to have been around the DOI for quite some time. 🙁

    We always hope for the best….

  8. Lyn McCormick Avatar
    Lyn McCormick

    Stuart Udall was the last, BEST, DOI Secretary. Everyone since then has been a sell-out to industry. Babbit at least formed the Resource Advisory Committees but they turned out to be just a gratuitous gesture to the Public process and I believe they’ve been abandoned. Last time I checked, there were only 3 reps on the North West Colorado RAC out of 12 positions; a land-use planner from the O&G industry, a “Conservation” Rep who is a rancher and Big Game lobbyist, can’t remember the third Rep but there are no Public At Large or Wildlife Rep positions filled as of last spring. The BLM agent said they didn’t know if/ when the RAC’s would become active. Ken Salazar (D) in 2010 threatened at gun-point wild horse advocates having a peaceful rally trying to hand-deliver a Petition to him on the steps of the DOI in 2010. And, Sally Jewel excluded the press from the Sage Grouse Initiative meetings between her and stakeholders in 2014 or thereabouts.

  9. Charlotte Roe Avatar
    Charlotte Roe

    Applause for Erik Molvar & Wildlife News for this piece. It’s sad that the Interior Department and the Bureau of Land Management are so unprioritized by most politicos – except the cattle and fossil fuel industry lobbyists and the likes of the Bundy brothers. Pendley’s views are so extreme that the conservative Grand Junction Daily Sentinel opposed his nomination, despite his moving the BLM to that Western Colorado city. The Sentinel’s editorial dissed him for his contempt of the movement for racial justice and called Pendley the “face of a fringe movement against federal ownership of public lands.” If this palace coup by a corrupt Sagebrush Rebel isn’t enough to make conservationists and rights supporters do our all to inspire and mobilize voters in this election, we’ll see wild places become a bitterly nostalgic memory.

  10. Chris Zinda Avatar
    Chris Zinda

    Like I said from the start, back in 2017.

    The only with standing is the Senate.

    Remember: Dem Senators did nothing (still aren’t) on Federal Vacancies Reform Act while the Dem House funded of DOI initiatives- like BLM HQ.



Dr. Ralph Maughan is professor emeritus of political science at Idaho State University. He was a Western Watersheds Project Board Member off and on for many years, and was also its President for several years. For a long time he produced Ralph Maughan’s Wolf Report. He was a founder of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition. He and Jackie Johnson Maughan wrote three editions of “Hiking Idaho.” He also wrote “Beyond the Tetons” and “Backpacking Wyoming’s Teton and Washakie Wilderness.” He created and is the administrator of The Wildlife News.

Subscribe to get new posts right in your Inbox

Ralph Maughan