by Ed Shepard
As I was working on this column the news came out on the decision in the case of Bullock, et al v. BLM. As you are probably all aware by now, the ruling found that the Secretary’s appointment of William Perry Pendley as the BLM’s official “exercising the authority of the Director” violated the Appointments Clause of the U.S. Constitution, the Federal Vacancy Reform Act of 1998, and the Administrative Procedures Act. The decision found that two RMPs in the State of Montana were arbitrary and capricious and without force and effect, as Mr. Pendley was appointed contrary to law and did not have the authority to make decisions. Beyond the two specified RMPs and Records of Decision, the Lewistown RMP and Missoula RMP, the Court’s decision calls into question any other action that he took while exercising the authority of the Director. The Department of the Interior has stated that they will appeal the decision immediately. At this time there still is considerable uncertainty on how this decision will play out in Montana and throughout BLM. The PLF executive committee prepared the following statement:
The Public Lands Foundation has advocated for the Administration to nominate a BLM Director as required by the Federal Land Policy and Management Act and the Federal Vacancy Reform Act, but the Administration has not done so. Judge Morris’ recent decision should not be a surprise. The result is that BLM remains without a Director and it is now uncertain who will be leading the Bureau. The Court’s order calls into question decisions made by Mr. Pendley in Montana, and any other decisions on BLM-managed public lands made by him during this timeframe. The PLF continues to advocate for the timely selection of a BLM Director who has professional land management experience as required in FLPMA.
We assume that the judge’s decision regarding Pendley will be appealed and we have no comment about the litigation. We would point out that moving the BLM Headquarters 1,900 miles away from our Nation’s capital in a recent reorganization makes this situation a bit murky if this decision is affirmed. . Will the Secretary of the Interior be making all BLM decisions while his staff of advisors is two time zones away? The PLF has always been concerned about this issue and commented several times that the Director position should be filled using the required advice and consent process of Congress.
Fifty years ago, in the summer of 1970, I fought my first wildland fire. Since that time, I have been involved in wildland fire and prescribed fire as a firefighter, manager, and lately as a casual observer. As a forester over much of that time, my colleagues and I observed the health of many forested areas deteriorate and fuel loads increase. We all have seen the size and severity of fires increase over the past three decades. I have personally been involved with several large fire busts. None of that prepared me to see what happened across the west coast on Labor Day! In the Northwest and California, we experienced the perfect storm; prolonged drought, existing wildfires, and dry east winds with gusts up to 90 mph combined with downed powerlines and a few arsonists to ignite and spread fires all over Oregon, Washington, and California. The rapid spread and burning conditions overwhelmed firefighting resources and the only thing that could be done was to try to get people out of the way of the rapidly spreading flames. Fortunately, most made it. Tragically, nine souls in Oregon and dozens in California did not make it and lost their lives. Several communities have been nearly wiped off the map and thousands of homes and businesses have been lost.
It will take some time to assess all the losses here in Oregon alone. At the peak, there were nearly three dozen large fires burning across Oregon, some in the tens of thousands of acres, four over 100,000 acres, and one over 200,000 acres. There were large fires in nearly every major river drainage in western Oregon from the Clackamas River east of Portland to Bear Creek in the Rogue River drainage. At one point, 500,000 Oregonians, more than 10 percent of the population, were under some level of evacuation order with over 40,000 being ordered to leave their homes. Beyond the loss of life, homes, and businesses; acres of crops and forage were destroyed and hundreds of millions of board feet of federal, state, tribal, and private timber were burned, wild and scenic river corridors and wilderness areas were burned, and several recreation sites were destroyed.
This fire season was not the worst as far as the number of fires or acres burned, but it was a devastating year that started early and continues on. Everyone is quick to want to assign blame on climate change, poor forest and rangeland management, poor planning, or whatever. The truth is that many things contributed to the fires and it will take addressing the issue at multiple levels to begin to bring things back into balance. The good thing from a land management standpoint is that forests grow back.
This year we held our Annual Meeting via ZOOM with two-hour sessions over a three-day period. From my perspective, it went well and, though abbreviated, was productive. But technology cannot replace a live meeting where we get to visit with each other, interact with the people making presentations, and swap stories over a drink. It is also pretty hard to Zoom a field trip. Like true BLMers, we made it work, thanks to the technological acumen of George Stone, who led us through Zoom and Mary Trautner, who took care of getting the general meeting streamed live on YouTube. The general session on Wildlife Migration Corridors and Sage-Grouse was led by Wyoming PLF Representative Bill LeBarron. We heard from acting Wyoming State Director Duane Spencer and Rock Springs Field Manager Kimberlee Foster on BLM activities in Wyoming, including new Resource Management Plans. Angi Bruce, the Deputy Director of the Wyoming Game and Fish Department and Bob Budd, Executive Director of the Wyoming Wildlife & Natural Resource Trust and Chairman of the Wyoming Sage-Grouse Implementation Team presented the work they have been doing on wildlife corridors and sage-grouse management using an adaptive management approach. We also heard from Jamela Thompson, one of the George Lea Founder’s Scholarship recipients, on her Masters work on “Characterizing Fuel Treatment Effectiveness in Utah” during the Wednesday business meeting. It is good to see so much good work going on in the field.
The results of our business meeting are covered in this edition of the Monitor. We will be deciding on next year’s meeting venue and topic in the next few months. I really hope that we get past this pandemic and can have a traditional meeting, however, if we cannot, we now know that we can accomplish most of the purpose of our meeting through technology.
This fall has started out full of surprises. I’m sure there are more to come. I know we will all be watching the election results. So, sit back and take it all in while you enjoy the fall weather and upcoming holiday seasons.