The biggest challenge facing public lands is the more than 88,000 free-roaming wild horses and burros on nearly 27 million acres of Bureau of Land Management property, a top Trump administration official said Oct. 11.
Acting BLM Director William Perry Pendley said the destruction and devastation created by the descendants of animals used by Spanish explorers, the U.S. cavalry, and others costs the federal government millions of dollars each year.
He called the horses and burros “an existential threat to these lands.”
Pendley spoke as part of a panel on public lands during the Society of Environmental Journalists annual meeting in Fort Collins, Colo. He replaced Interior Secretary David Bernhardt, who had a scheduling conflict, during a morning session.
Other panelists said climate change was the biggest threat, but Pendley said he was most concerned by roaming animals, which the agency routinely auctions off. More than 11,000 horses and burros were removed in 2018.
“They are causing havoc on the land,” said Pendley who mentioned a BLM report on the animals. “They say some land in the West is so devastated and destroyed and it will never recover.”
Opponents say the practice is inhumane and could lead to the slaughter of animals.
Former President Richard Nixon signed the Wild and Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act in 1971. The law gives the agency oversight to manage, protect, and control the animals on public lands.
Under the law, BLM has authority to remove some animals to sustain herd health and the range land for farmers and ranchers.
Pendley, who was appointed in July, has BLM director authority and his decisions affect how the agency manages its 245 million acres when it comes to oil and gas development, mineral mining, livestock grazing, recreation, and other issues.
Climate, Resource Development
He also said a Democratic effort to ban drilling on public lands is “absolutely insane” and would have devastating effects on not only the West but the rest of the country.
Several Democratic presidential candidates have embraced a “keep it in the ground” policy, which would largely ban new oil and gas development on public lands.
When pressed on the effects of climate change on federal lands, Pendley said he hadn’t yet been briefed on the issue. “There’s a ton of topics I haven’t been briefed on and one of the reasons is all of my recusals,” Pendley said.
In a 2011 news release, he said that “public support for the fiction of man-made climate change” is “at an all-time low.”
Since his appointment, Pendley has said his past words don’t matter and that he serves the American people with his bosses being President Donald Trump and Bernhardt.
“What I thought, what I wrote, what I did in the past is irrelevant,” he said.
Pendley also said at the SEJ conference that BLM is mindful that communities in rural areas, such as Colorado’s Western Slope, are sometimes left out of the equation during environmental reviews and lawsuits over oil and gas exploration. But those operations can fund schools and hospitals, for example.
“The development of these resources is the lifeblood for these people,” Pendley said. Allowing industry is “a certainty we like to deliver on,” he said.
As he has been saying in interviews since his July appointment, Pendley said he’s an attorney, not a scientist, but follows Bernhardt, who believes climate change is real.
The agency also must follow environmental reviews, affirmed by the courts, he said.
“We need to understand and address the consequences of future climate conditions,” Pendley said.
Like his boss, who is under review by the inspector general for conflict of interest issues, Pendley is also a controversial figure. He is overseeing BLM’s headquarters move from Washington, D.C., to Grand Junction, Colo., and he has advocated selling off public lands in the past.
A dozen Senate Democrats sought his removal as acting director as recently as Sept. 26.
The Wyoming native was president of the Colorado-based Mountain States Legal Foundation before joining BLM. While at Mountain States, he promoted selling off land and abolishing two Utah national monuments.
In his new role, he said said the “wholesale” transfer or disposal of public lands is off the table. He has also recused himself from any work linked to former clients.
Pendley served as the Interior Department’s deputy assistant secretary for Energy and Minerals under former President Ronald Reagan.
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