Conservative lawyer William Perry Pendley was appointed acting chief of the U.S. Bureau of Land Management this week in a move by the Trump administration that drew the ire of environmental groups.
Interior Secretary David Bernhardt signed an order Monday that temporarily re-delegates Pendley to serve as acting director of the BLM pending an appointee confirmed by the Senate. Pendley joined the bureau earlier this month as deputy director of policy and programs.
The order comes just weeks after BLM announced it would move its headquarters to Grand Junction, Colorado, from Washington, D.C.
The move means Pendley will oversee the 245 million acres under BLM management, and multiple use practices like energy development and livestock grazing on those lands.
Pendley was formerly president of the Colorado-based conservative public interest law firm Mountain States Legal Foundation. He also served in the Department of Interior during the Reagan administration.
The move has drawn the ire of environmental and conservation groups who say Pendley is hostile to public lands.
They cite a 2016 article penned by Pendley in National Review, in which he wrote that, "The Founding Fathers intended all lands owned by the federal government to be sold. After all, jurisdiction over real property, that is, property law, was given to the states."
Pendley also urged President Donald Trump to ignore recommendations made by former Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke.
"The BLM is charged with managing some of the West's most treasured landscapes. Appointing William Perry Pendley, a proponent of taking public lands out of public hands, to head [BLM] is an outright assault on our #publiclands system itself," Western Resource Advocates tweeted.
The Western Values Project used the appointment to accuse the Trump administration of being "only interested in selling off public lands to the highest bidder."
"Pendley is an outspoken advocate for the transfer of public lands to the state. Anything they've ever said about not selling off public lands has just been a political smokescreen to distract from their real intentions: handing over public lands to their special interest allies," Executive Director Chris Saeger said.
"This is an unacceptable decision from an administration that has touted its commitment to prioritizing hunters, anglers and conserving our shared lands and waters," said Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, a public lands advocacy group with chapters across the country. "There is no room for someone like Mr. Pendley as the head of a lands management agency tasked with overseeing nearly a quarter billion acres of our public lands."
The Trump administration has received constant criticism from environmental groups for weakening environmental regulations and expanding access to energy development on public lands.