The U.S. House held a hearing last week on the relocation of the headquarters of the Bureau of Land Management from Washington, D.C., to a small town in Colorado. This move is a half-baked political stunt with no justification. It will cost millions, impair congressional oversight, and disrupt agency programs.

The BLM move is being advanced in the name of “local input” on public land management. This rhetoric rings hollow when you consider how much this administration is ignoring genuine community input.

The truth is that public lands in Montana and across the West have been on the chopping block over the last two years. Our public lands are being run by people who talk about local input but whose actions tell a very different story. BLM director William Pendley is an activist lawyer and an advocate for selling off public lands, and Interior Secretary David Bernhardt is a Washington, D.C., lobbyist for the oil and gas industry. While both love the rhetoric of local control, the agendas they are advancing are about ignoring local communities.

Sage grouse reversal

The first example of this disregard for local input is sage grouse management. In 2015, the Interior Department adopted plans in Montana and across the West to protect habitat and manage development activity in sage-grouse country to keep the species off of the federal Endangered Species list. The plans were the product of 10 years of hard work by hunters, ranchers, wildlife managers, conservationists, local government, and the energy industry. Nobody got everything they wanted, but we found a way to conserve the species without ending other land uses.

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Unfortunately, the current leadership of the Interior Department has decided to throw out the 2015 sage grouse plans. This has meant rewriting them in several states, and ignoring the plan in Montana. Compromises and decisions that had been carefully worked out by local stakeholders are being disregarded so that Bernhardt and Pendley can pat themselves on the back. Montanans will lose out when the sage grouse ends up on the Endangered Species list due to this irresponsible management.

Lewistown rewrite

In another striking example, this administration threw out years of local input that went into the Lewistown Resource Management Plan, which affects 650,000 acres of public land in Montana. After the original plan was developed with real community input, Bernhardt decided it needed to be rewritten in Washington, D.C. The new plan, about to be adopted, scraps conservation measures and dramatically increases lands open for oil and gas drilling. This plan, which decides how the land is managed for 20 to 30 years, was written to specifically ignore local input.

We don’t need leaders in Washington, D.C., to talk about local input on public land management; we need them to respect it. Sen. Jon Tester should be commended for asking tough questions of Pendley and pushing back on this administration’s efforts to sell off our public lands. We are also lucky to have Gov. Steve Bullock continuing to stand up for Montana’s state-level sage grouse program, even as the federal government is rolling back protections. With grouse populations declining and federal plans unraveling, we need to ensure sage grouse habitat remains healthy in Montana.

I hope that Sen. Steve Daines and Rep. Greg Gianforte also step up to defend local input and speak out against Pendley’s sell-off agenda and Bernhardt’s top-down decision-making. Our shared concern for the future of our public lands and wildlife is more important than politics.

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Dave Chadwick is the executive director of the Montana Wildlife Federation.


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