Monday, November 30, 2020

A new administration and new opportunities to reform the BLM

The Wild and Scenic Rogue River flows through BLM lands west of Grants Pass, Oregon.


The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) manages more public land than any other federal land management agency, including nearly 248 million acres, representing an incredible 10.5% of all land in the United States. These public lands contain important wildlife habitat, highly scenic landscapes and many spectacular wildlands. 

In the Siskiyou Mountains, BLM lands include the Medford District BLM, which manages the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument, the foothills of the Applegate Valley, diverse forests in the Illinois River watershed, and portions the spectacular Wild and Scenic Rogue River.

Unfortunately, during the Trump Administration, the BLM has declared an all-out assault on both public involvement and environmental regulations, implementing an undemocratic, unscientific and industrial approach to public land management. This has facilitated an increase in damaging projects across the West, including increased logging, mining, drilling, grazing, off-road vehicle use, and more. 

Although historically poor stewards of our public lands and biased in favor of industrial resource extraction, under the Trump Administration the last shreds of integrity at BLM have been drastically eroded. In fact, the BLM has been fully transformed into an illicit, rogue agency that is openly hostile to public land and the conservation values it was intended to protect. From the highest level political appointees, down to local BLM offices, anti-public land ideology and private extractive industries have thoroughly corrupted the agency. 

BLM logging in the Sterling Sweeper Timber Sale.  

Illegal Political Appointees & Corruption at the Highest Levels

Led by the illegally appointed, anti-public lands extremist William Perry Pendley, the BLM currently serves as a resource base for private industry, not a public agency working for the greater public good.

Pendley formerly worked as a mining and oil industry attorney and as president of the Western States Legal Foundation, funded by both the Charles Koch Foundation and Exxon Mobil. Before being appointed to his illegal tenure as BLM director, Pendley regularly sued the BLM, advocating for privatization and the industrial exploitation of public resources. He has also denied the existence of climate change, advocated for the illegal killing of endangered species, and written numerous books promoting anti-public land ideology. 

Diverse landscapes like the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument are managed by the Medford District BLM. Early in the Trump Administration the agency proposed eliminating protections for portions of the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument, but appears to have backed away from that proposal.

Yet, despite a history of hostility towards the BLM, or perhaps because of it, the Trump Administration initially proposed Pendley for the Director position in July of 2019. Knowing that Pendley's extremist views would preclude senate confirmation, this nomination was quickly withdrawn and the Trump Administration simply declared him the "acting" BLM director, a position that has been repeatedly renewed, making his "acting" role essentially permanent. For over one and a half years, Pendley, illegally acting as BLM Director, set policy and priorities designed specifically to undermine public lands, public involvement and public accountability. 

In response, Montana Governor Steve Bullock sued the federal government over the appointment of Pendley as BLM Director without appropriate confirmation or oversight. In the end, Judge Brian Morris of the US District Court deemed Pendley's appointment unlawful, directed him to immediately step down, and suggested that land management decisions and policy changes made during his tenure should be either thrown out or reversed. 

Backed by the Trump Administration, and in open violation of the law, Pendley has refused to step down, stating that the ruling would have "no impact whatsoever." Currently, Pendley continues to dictate policy, dismantle the agency and sacrifice public lands to his industry allies.

Local Impacts, Policy Changes and Contempt for both the Environment and the Public

Wellington Wildlands on BLM lands in the Applegate Valley is not only an unprotected roadless area, but portions of the wildland are threatened with BLM logging in the Bear Grub Timber Sale.

Although policy makers and BLM officials in Washington DC seem far from the Siskiyou Mountains and the forests of Western Oregon, their impact has been felt here in our local region and across our local BLM lands. During the Trump Administration and the illegal tenure of Pendley, the management of local BLM lands has become significantly less inclusive, responsive or accountable to the public, and projects themselves have become significantly more industrial in nature. 

The specific environmental rollbacks enabling this shift include:

  • Altering the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) by reducing public participation, limiting judicial review, and removing requirements for the disclosure of environmental impacts. 
  • Altering NEPA guidelines by allowing and encouraging climate change related impacts to go unanalyzed in the scientific review process. 
  • Placing time limits and page limits on NEPA analysis and scientific review documents. 
  • Eliminating the opportunity for the public to file administrative protests for BLM timber sales and other projects.
  • Dramatically reducing the amount of "critical habitat" for the threatened Northern Spotted Owl in Western Oregon on BLM lands. 
  • Using Categorical Exclusions to provide broad exemptions for post-fire logging projects under 5,000 acres in size, shielding them from the full NEPA process and review.

These significant changes in national and regional policy have translated directly into impacts to our local forests and communities. They have also facilitated a complete breakdown in trust between the BLM and the public in our region, hearkening back to the "timber wars" of the 1990s.

Large, old trees like these are proposed for logging in the controversial Bear Grub Timber Sale. This timber sale was proposed, approved and sold to the timber industry with virtually no public involvement under the policies of William Perry Pendley.

More than happy to embrace the Trump era and lock the public out of the public land planning process, the Medford District BLM has begun aggressively and inappropriately implementing their 2016 Resource Management Plan under this new veil of secrecy. Projects such as the Bear Grub Timber Sale, Clean Slate Timber Sale, Griffin Halfmoon Timber Sale, Poor Windy Timber Sale, and the innocuous sounding Integrated Vegetation Management for Resilient Lands Project (IVM) have been proposed or approved without adequate public involvement, without adequate scientific analysis and with absolutely no honest attempt to show concern for public values, community fire safety, wildlife habitats, recreational values, wildlands, or non-timber related economic values. 

What these projects do have in common is a general contempt for the values, needs and concerns of surrounding communities and an increase in "regeneration," group selection, or clearcut logging.

The implementation of these types of industrial logging will significantly increase fire hazards adjacent to our communities and contribute to a warming climate. Commercial logging is the largest producer of greenhouse gases in the state of Oregon (Law. 2018), and by removing large, old trees, BLM timber sales will release abundant stored carbon into the atmosphere. BLM logging projects are actively degrading carbon-rich primary forests, altering larger climate patterns and localized micro-climate conditions, damaging wildlife habitats, impacting recreation areas, non-timber related economic values and the quality of life for residents of southwestern Oregon.

The Need for Reform

Public meetings and field trips like this one in 2014 for the Nedsbar Timber Sale are currently a thing of the past. Instead of engaging local communities, the Medford District BLM is working to avoid accountability and manage public resources for the sole benefit of private industry.


Our forests and communities deserve better! Comprehensive reform, restructuring, and realignment of the BLM is badly needed. The recent change in administrations makes this reform both possible and timely, but it also depends on local activists, residents and those that recreate on BLM land speaking up, speaking out and demanding change. It also requires that elected officials on all levels work to reform the BLM and define a new way forward by:  

1) Replacing Secretary Bernhardt, "acting" director William Perry Pendley, and other compromised BLM officials with nominees that value public land, support conservation, acknowledge the threat of climate change and will work on behalf of both the land and the people of this country, not just the corporations.

2) Withdrawing all Trump era NEPA rule changes, strengthening public involvement standards and increasing scientific review standards for all NEPA projects. We recommend implementing NEPA reforms that are specifically targeted towards making public land management more transparent, scientifically sound, inclusive, responsive to public concerns, and environmentally responsible

3) Banning all new oil and gas drilling leases on public lands nationwide. Review, and when necessary withdraw, Trump era oil and gases leases on sensitive lands including the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

4) Extend the 2001 Roadless Rule to BLM lands nationwide, including all BLM Wilderness Study Areas, uninventoried roadless areas and Lands with Wilderness Characteristics (LWC). 

5) Reinstate the protections for the Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalate National Monuments removed by the Trump Administration in 2017.

6) Require all federal land management projects to analyze climate impacts during the NEPA process.

7) Strengthen and expand the Endangered Species Act (ESA), and specifically increase protections for the Northern spotted owl from "threatened" to "endangered." Reinstate and expand Northern spotted owl critical habitat designations on Western Oregon BLM lands.

8) Repeal the O&C Act and manage public lands in Western Oregon for carbon sequestration, wildlife habitat, water quality, fisheries, recreation, connectivity, and biodiversity. 

9) Create large carbon reserves on public forest lands throughout the West, and protect all late successional and old growth forest habitats for climate mitigation and carbon storage.

10) Designate new National Monuments and National Recreation Areas across the country, including the Siskiyou Mountains National Recreation Area on Medford District BLM lands and the Siskiyou Crest National Monument on adjacent National Forest lands. 


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