How will Trump exploit public lands? Dismantling Bureau of Land Management

How will Trump exploit public lands? Dismantling Bureau of Land Management
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The Trump administration’s hostility towards our public lands and wildlife is no secret. President TrumpDonald TrumpTrump defends indicted GOP congressman House to vote Thursday on holding Bannon in contempt Youngkin calls for investigation into Loudoun County School Board amid sexual assault allegations MORE and his Interior Secretary David Bernhardt are on a mission to drill, mine and log our public domain, and eliminate bedrock environmental protections that serve as safeguards against the damage caused by extractive industries. 

The administration’s latest move targets a public agency responsible for stewarding millions of acres of our public lands — the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) — as it seeks to eliminate another “barrier” to reckless development across the West.

Like the National Wildlife Refuge System, the National Park System, and the National Forest System, our National System of Public Lands managed by the BLM is a public treasure. BLM manages more federal lands than any other agency, a total of 248 million acres. These natural resources are stunning, timeless and quintessential of America, from majestic mountains in Colorado, wild rivers in Alaska, ancient forests in Oregon, to expansive grasslands and deserts stretching across the interior West. 


These rich and diverse habitats are also critical for wildlife. The National System of Public Lands supports more than 3,000 species of wildlife, including 430 threatened and endangered plants and animals. 

The BLM has 11,000 dedicated employees, over 95 percent of which are stationed in state and field offices near the lands and resources they manage. A small force of highly skilled and experienced professionals work in Washington, D.C., where they craft policy, administer national programs, advise lawmakers and collaborate with other federal agencies. While small, the headquarters office is the nerve center of the BLM, performing essential roles that ensure the National System of Public Lands continues to function as an interconnected network of lands, waters and wildlife. 

For the Trump administration, cohesively managed national systems of public lands are anathema to its goal of partitioning and auctioning off public resources for private gain. Bernhardt is splintering the agency, moving BLM headquarters, including the director, to Grand Junction, Colorado. His plan would also scatter hundreds of other resource experts across the Western states, separating them from their colleagues and from other federal agencies and national stakeholder organizations.

While the Interior secretary asserts increased functionality and efficiency, the truth is that abolishing the BLM’s central inoculating functions will render its entire system of public lands more susceptible to isolation and exploitation. Absent a Washington, presence, the agency also will be sidelined from the processes that shape national-level policies.

In fact, policy decisions will be made by the Interior secretary, his political appointees and the special interests that seek to develop and exploit our public lands, without the stabilizing presence and input of career professionals. 

Spread thin across the Western U.S., national resource, planning and management experts will find it difficult to collaborate with one another, their counterparts in other agencies and non-governmental partners — all to the detriment of public lands and waters and the wildlife that depend upon them.

In August, Mick MulvaneyMick MulvaneyJan. 6 committee issues latest round of subpoenas for rally organizers The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Alibaba - To vote or not? Pelosi faces infrastructure decision Jan. 6 panel subpoenas 11, including Pierson, other rally organizers MORE, the acting chief of staff to Trump, touted the fact that moving agencies outside of Washington, is a “wonderful way to streamline government” due to employees quitting rather than relocating. The administration’s goal appears to be to disempower the federal government and the obstacle it presents to satisfying its business interests. Crippling the BLM not only makes it easier to exploit public lands and resources but seems aimed at justifying the eventual dismantling of the agency and transfer of the federal domain to the states.

I don’t always agree with how BLM manages wildlife, watersheds and public lands, especially under this administration. But one thing I do know is that dissolving the BLM headquarters and isolating resource experts will jeopardize species like sage-grouse, desert tortoises, mule deer, kit foxes, grizzly bears and falcons that the BLM is charged to protect.

To date, the Interior secretary has ignored calls to discard this ill-conceived reorganization plan that seems destined to waste money, undermine morale and disempower the BLM. It’s up to Congress and the public to oppose this damaging scheme and support this agency to solve the complex conservation and natural resource management challenges it faces today. 

Jamie Rappaport Clark is the president and CEO of Defenders of Wildlife. She was previously the director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service from 1997-2001.