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Why Was A 'Sagebrush Rebel' Hired To Run Public Lands Agency? Group Sues To Find Out

Photo of William Perry Pendley on a bike.
Eric Coulter
Bureau of Land Management
William Perry Pendley, center, has advocated for selling off public lands in the past. Now he's acting director of the nation's largest land management agency.

A government watchdog on Wednesday filed suit against the Bureau of Land Management to find out why it hired a one-time, anti-public lands advocate to run the agency. 

The non-profit Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, or PEER, said it initially filed a public records request asking for emails and correspondence related to the hiring of acting director William Perry Pendley, a self-described “sagebrush rebel” who once advocated for selling off many federal lands west of the Mississippi. 

“Like a lot of people, we were shocked that Mr. Pendley had even been named into a high position there,” said PEER attorney Peter Jenkins. 

PEER charges the BLM has not released those requested public records in a timely manner, so it filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court in Washington D.C. demanding the documents. 

“The nature of [Pendley’s] appointment, how it was carried out and what the terms were are very important,” said Jenkins. “It may shed light on the legal vulnerabilities that we think go with his appointment.”

The Bureau of Land Management said it does not comment on pending litigation. Pendley has repeatedlyargued his private beliefs do not influence his work at the BLM. 

“I’m a Marine. I understand the chain of command. I know how to follow orders. I get it,” he told the radio show Montana Talks in late August. “Whatever I’ve done or said in the past is irrelevant.”

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUER in Salt Lake City, KUNR in Nevada, and KRCC and KUNC in Colorado.

Nate Hegyi is the Utah reporter for the Mountain West News Bureau, based at KUER. He covers federal land management agencies, indigenous issues, and the environment. Before arriving in Salt Lake City, Nate worked at Yellowstone Public Radio, Montana Public Radio, and was an intern with NPR's Morning Edition. He received a master's in journalism from the University of Montana.
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