ELKO — After becoming the Bureau of Land Management Deputy Director for Policy and Programs in July 2019, William Perry Pendley has been a busy man and played an integral part of making big decisions within the BLM nationwide and here in Nevada.
Despite a recent revelation that President Donald Trump’s administration has withdrawn its nomination of Pendley to serve as director of the BLM, Pendley has his eyes on the current and the immediate future — speaking fondly of some of the major moves and issues that the bureau, himself and President Trump have worked on and accomplished in the past year.
Q: What is the Great American Outdoors Act, how did it come about, and in what ways does it pertain to Nevadans?
A: I worked for President Regan’s administration and there were things that needed addressed as far as public improvements. Oftentimes, those things were viewed as deferred maintenance and were pushed back.
Congress hadn’t appropriated those funds.
President Regan, President George H.W. Bush, President Clinton, President George W. Bush and President Obama could not get those things passed.
President Trump’s great genius made it happen. He knew the language but could not wrap his mind around why something was deferred. As a hotel owner, if a boiler was broken down — he’d make sure it was fixed. He feels the same way about public lands, buildings and recreational areas.
I was proud to stand behind him on Aug. 4, at the White House, when he signed the Great American Outdoors Act into law.
Annually, $900 million will fully fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund.
President Trump got with Montana Senator Steve Daines and Colorado Senator Cory Gardner, and they agreed that they had to make this happen.
They are creating a task force, which I am a part of, to figure out how to spend the money wisely and which projects to carry out.
Of the $900 million, $95 million per year will go to the deferred maintenance.
We have kept careful records and know what we have to work on. In some areas it’s roads. For the (National) Park Service, it’s buildings.
We also have to improve our firefighting facilities. After decades of use, they get run down. We want to make sure those are up to snuff.
They’re hiring engineers, project managers and at the start of the fiscal year on Oct. 1, we want to hit the ground running.
As for Nevada, I can’t answer to where the money will be used. (BLM Nevada State Director) Jon Raby is the person who makes those decisions. A lot of times, the money is directed on a project-by-project basis and not necessarily by state.
NOTE: Approximately $4 million annually will be awarded directly to Nevada, according to a press release from the Nevada Department of Conservation & Natural Resources.
Q: Where is the BLM at with the relocation of its headquarters?
A: On July, 17, 2019 — with the support of Congress — it was approved to move the BLM headquarters to Grand Junction, Colorado.
On Monday, Aug. 10, they declared the office the Robert F. Burford BLM headquarters. He was named the BLM director by President Regan in the ‘80s, and he was born and raised in Grand Junction.
We currently have about 40 people working in the office, and almost all of our top leaders are there.
More than 97 percent of BLM lands are in 11 states in the West, so it seemed like a great place for the headquarters.
The BLM moved 220 positions to those western states, and 32 were sent to Reno — distinctly focusing on Nevada issues.
The two biggest emphasis for Nevada are the Wild Horse and Burro Program and the Mining and Minerals laws. More than half of the wild horses and burros in the United States are from Nevada.
We left 61 positions — mostly regulatory — in Washington D.C. They primarily look at things like the budget and the Freedom of Information Act.
Q: How is the progress of the firebreak program coming along in Nevada?
A: That is an individual project that was approved by the Great Basin EIS (Environmental Impact Study).
To accomplish those, you have to do a lot of studies — mostly on an individual basis for a given location — but they are limited.
Basically, the ideas were to widen roadways and install fuel breaks. They are made to allow locals to get out and firefighters to get in.
According to the statistics, 80% of fires are human-caused. For those lightning-caused fires, they often occur in isolated areas and we need to get in fast.
NOTE: According to BLM Nevada, it accomplished 134,210 acres of hazardous fuel reduction in 2019, which was a record for the organization. So far in 2020, 110,000 acres have been treated and are expected to exceed 134,000 total acres treated through a variety of methods including roadside treatments, landscape treatments and restoration.
With regard to the Great Basin Fuel Break EIS, currently there are no projects in Nevada that have used that document. There are three projects in the Elko District planned for Fiscal Year 2021.
Q: Why do you think fires have been relatively small this year, despite unusually hot and dry conditions?
A: I don’t know if I’d call them much smaller, but I can’t speak for the fires there.
Here, the Pine Gulch Fire — just outside of Grand Junction — has burned more than 82,000 acres and the Grizzly Creek Fire was at 25,000 acres, so I-70 was closed down east and west.
It comes and goes, it’s hard to predict.
We had a lighter fire season in 2019, but then Sonoma County (California) lit late and burned a bunch. Alaska had a terrible fire season.
We want to stress that people need to be careful. Don’t drag chains, don’t pull over with a hot engine onto a dry, grassy area. Everyone has to use caution and good judgement.
Don’t fly drones around the areas of fires, because we can’t get in there.
NOTE: From Jan. 1 to Aug. 10, 2020 a total of 33,917 wildfires burned about 2.3 million acres, according to the National Interagency Fire Center. In the same period last year a total of 28,821 fires burned about 3.6 million acres.
Q: Do you know how much longer you will be in charge of the BLM now that President Trump has withdrawn your nomination?
A: I’m not going to go digging in the weeds, that’s above my pay grade.
I’m the Deputy Director for Policy and Programs. I will be running the bureau as long as President Trump and Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt want me to.
Right now, I’m fighting fires.
Q: Is there anything else you would like to add?
A: We have had some big deals for President Trump.
The BLM manages one-third of the country and 65% of the land in Nevada, and we’d like to use it on jobs.
Ultimately, it will supply 25 percent of the world’s lithium.
Facing this unseen enemy attack, we cannot rely on Red China to provide our supplies — medical or resources.
The lithium story is a great jobs story, we’re looking at north of 1,000 contractors.