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Know the West

Borderlands groups: Deny Pendley’s nomination to head Bureau of Land Management

‘Pendley should not only be voted down by the U.S. Senate, he should be shown out the door of the BLM as soon as possible.’

 

Many of us who live in the Southwest have a remarkable, unbreakable, multigenerational connection with our public lands, watersheds and the unique flora and fauna in this culturally diverse region of singular beauty. Since time immemorial, 22 sovereign Indigenous nations have called these vast expanses of mountains, deserts and plains their homelands, and Native American people continue to rely on public lands for a variety of spiritual, cultural and subsistence uses.

The Hispano, Latino and Mestizo connection goes back at least 477 years, dating back to Spanish land-grant and acequia communities, many of which still farm, ranch and subsist on public landscapes.

As executive director of Nuestra Tierra Conservation Project, I work to ensure that frontera communities have access to the outdoors — and that our history, values and people are reflected in public-lands management. We do this through education, advocacy and empowerment. Conservationists, veterans, outdoor recreationists, outdoor and hospitality businesses and communities rely on these public lands for sustainable uses such as hunting, fishing, firewood and herb gathering, as well as for mental and physical health, recreation and economic purposes.

Sonoran Desert National Monument, Arizona.

Now, I — and the communities and organizations I work with — fear that the resources that have been stewarded in the Southwest for thousands of years will be jeopardized by the nomination of William Perry Pendley to head the Bureau of Land Management, a position he’s already served in as acting director for nearly a year, and that we have vehemently opposed.

Balancing these stakeholder needs with the long-term health and viability of vast, multi-state landscapes . . . requires a leader who understands how to thoughtfully bring together many interests often at odds.

Frontera communities are not the only ones concerned by his nomination. Sen. Jon Tester, D, of Montana recently joined eight other Western senators in a letter that called Pendley unfit to oversee the BLM, describing him as someone who “has supported extremists, defended leases issued on sacred tribal land without tribal consultation, and worked to undermine wildlife habitat protections based on years of careful negotiations.”

The BLM manages nearly 250 million acres, mostly in the West. These lands belong to all Americans and are inseparable from the living cultures of Indigenous nations, and the Hispano, Latino and Mestizo communities in the Frontera and elsewhere.

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Balancing these stakeholder needs with the long-term health and viability of vast, multi-state landscapes — including habitat for threatened species, watersheds that provide clean water and the wildlife corridors that are essential to big game animals — requires a leader who understands how to thoughtfully bring together many interests that are often at odds. Most importantly, it requires a leader with a moral compass to manage and steward these precious natural and cultural resources so that my kids, and your kids, and their kids can continue to benefit from them.

I don’t think William Pendley is capable of doing these things. His record shows him to be an anti-public lands extremist — the last person who should be overseeing our treasured public land. In a 2016 National Review column, he openly called for the United States to “sell its Western lands.” And he has long advocated for overturning the entire legal basis of federal land ownership. Pendley has documented conflicts of interest, including working on behalf of oil and gas and mining companies. He has led lawsuits defending President Donald Trump’s attempt to dismantle both Grand Staircase and Bears Ears national monuments.

Pendley at the helm is a desecration of a moral duty.

This troubling record tells me that we can expect more of the same if Pendley is confirmed to head the BLM.

If we sincerely believe that our generation has a moral obligation to manage public, natural and cultural resources in a sustainable, and responsible manner in order to hand them down to the next generation, then having Pendley at the helm is a desecration of a moral duty. If we honor our rich and irreplaceable Southwestern culture, history and belief in the equity and inclusivity of our diverse cultures, Pendley is a dangerous choice to manage the public lands that form the heart of our region — and our lives.

If we believe — as I and a majority of Westerners do — that public lands should remain in public hands, be accessible and be responsibly used by all Americans regardless of race, religion or social status, then Pendley should not only be voted down by the U.S. Senate, he should be shown out the door of the BLM as soon as possible. America and the Bureau of Land Management deserve better.

Ángel Peña, executive director of Nuestra Tierra Conservation Project, is a first-generation American and an archaeologist who lives in Las Cruces with his wife, two daughters and son. Email High Country News at [email protected] or submit a letter to the editor