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COMMENTARY: BLM interim director sympathetic to Sagebrush Rebellion crowd

In a Nov. 17 Review-Journal commentary, Bureau of Land Management Interim Director William Perry Pendley stated that state and county law enforcement should have primacy in enforcing federal law, thus demoting federal law enforcement to a supporting role. Mr. Pendley is promoting the agenda of Cliven Bundy and his ally group, the Constitutional Sheriffs, who seek to abolish federal law enforcement on Western public lands.

According to the Constitutional Sheriffs’ website, the organization’s official position is that “constitutional limits on ownership and/or control of land within a sovereign state should be returned to our policies and practices. States should have a plan for assuming control of all lands within their boundaries not obtained by constitutional means. … The federal agencies now claiming control of land within a state should be drastically downsized and/or dismantled. County sheriffs in these states should take their rightful position and use their authority to assist in the transfer of control of the land, and prosecution of violations of citizens’ rights by federal authorities.”

So when Mr. Pendley states that federal law enforcement will recognize “that counties are a governmental-arm of sovereign states,” it’s a dog whistle to the extremists of the anti-public-lands movement.

In 2014, while working as an attorney for the far-right Mountain States Legal Foundation, Mr. Pendley wrote a piece in The Nation bemoaning federal environmental protection laws and heralding Cliven Bundy’s standoff with federal law enforcement over the seizure of cattle caught illegally trespassing on public lands as “another Sagebrush Rebellion.” Mr. Pendley’s Twitter handle is @SagebrushRebel. The 2014 piece solidified Mr. Pendley’s position as a Bundy sympathizer, stating, “Westerners — especially rural Westerners who make a living on the federal lands that predominate beyond the hundredth meridian, by logging, mining, ranching, camping or developing energy resources — were not surprised” by the uprising after the BLM seized hundreds of heads of cattle from Mr. Bundy.” Mr. Pendley failed to mention those cattle had been trespassing in protected federal lands for decades.

Mr. Pendley’s latest opinion piece states that “the bureau is reaching out to local sheriffs to ensure that Rangers recognize that, although local law enforcement bears primary responsibility for enforcing state and federal law, Rangers are there to assist — lending their expertise to better local communities. Rangers, therefore, partner with local law enforcement, while recognizing that counties are a governmental-arm of sovereign states. Maintaining that deference is essential to making BLM a truly productive and valued partner to Western communities.”

Demoting federal law enforcement to a secondary role and putting local sheriffs in charge on federal public lands is unacceptable. Delegating law enforcement to local officials, some of whom have publicly stated their antipathy to federal environmental protections and their desire to maximize commercial exploitation of public lands, creates a recipe for chaos and environmental destruction.

Mr. Pendley is irresponsibly undermining federal laws on federal lands, thus proving that he is unfit to direct the BLM — or any other federal agency. He should resign or be removed from office forthwith.

— Erik Molvar is a wildlife biologist and executive director with Western Watersheds Project (www.westernwatersheds.org), an environmental conservation nonprofit working to protect and restore wildlife and watersheds on public lands throughout the West.

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