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Politics and Government

Cory Gardner touts public lands but won’t say if he supports Trump’s pick to oversee them

Gardner’s avoidance of the question signals the political pressure he’s facing

U.S Sen. Cory Gardner, a Colorado Republican. (Jesse Paul, The Colorado Sun)
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U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner helped lead a push to move the Bureau of Land Management headquarters to Colorado. And he is the sponsor of a bill to provide money to acquire public lands and improve national parks. 

But the Republican is refusing to discuss how the nation’s public lands should be managed.

President Donald Trump nominated the acting head of the Bureau of Land Management William Perry Pendley to serve as its permanent director June 26. 

In an interview with The Colorado Sun this week, Gardner repeatedly declined to say whether he supports the pick and/or Pendley’s tenure at the agency since he took the helm in July 2019.

Asked whether he supports Trump’s nomination, he said: “I look forward to a nomination process where we will have a lot of questions for Mr. Pendley.” He did not elaborate on the questions he wants answered.

Asked what he thinks of Pendley’s tenure in the past year, Gardner wouldn’t comment. He repeated his talking point: “We haven’t had the chance to have the hearing or ask the questions that we can at a confirmation hearing.”


Gardner’s avoidance of the question signals the political pressure he’s facing on the question amid his reelection bid in November. Pendley has drawn sharp criticism in the last year as he served as de facto director of the the agency as it relocated its headquarters to Grand Junction from Washington, D.C. 

William Perry Pendley is President Donald Trump’s nominee to lead the Bureau of Land Management. (Handout)

The attorney and former Marine who helmed the nonprofit, limited-government Mountain States Legal Foundation in Lakewood for more than 30 years once expressed support for the sale of public lands as a top Interior official in the Reagan Administration. 

Pendley has written three books, including “War on the West, Government Tyranny on America’s Great Frontier,” “Warriors for the West: Fighting Bureaucrats, Radical Groups and Liberal Judges on America’s Frontier,” and “Sagebrush Rebel: Reagan’s Battle with Environmental Extremists and Why It Matters Today.” 

In 2014, he called the Bureau of Land Management’s Nevada standoff with rancher Clive Bundy an “overreaction by federal officials, with snipers at the ready.” In 2017, he penned an op-ed in the Washington Examiner where he said the Black Lives Matter movement “was built on a terrible lie … that spread like cancer through inner cities endangering men and women in blue and the citizens who look to them for protection.” 

Last fall, he called for the agency’s law enforcement to defer to local sheriffs as a way to build trust with Westerners, riling groups who saw his editorial as a weakening of federal law enforcement powers. 

The Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility and Western Watershed Project in May filed a federal lawsuit challenging Interior Secretary David Bernhardt’s authority to authorize Pendley — and National Park Service Deputy Director David Vela — as agency heads without Senate confirmation. 

MORE: Read more coverage from The Colorado Sun about the Bureau of Land Management

“I think there will be a lot of opposition and I think the confirmation hearing will gather a lot of information about Pendley that will influence the Senate vote,” said Peter Jenkins, senior counsel for Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, pointing to an array of senators lining up in opposition to Pendley, including the moderate Sen. Joe Manchin, D-West Virginia, and Colorado’s Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet

Asked if he was supportive of the bureau’s general direction, Gardner again wouldn’t address the question. He said he’s excited the agency moved its headquarters and will receive money for maintenance of BLM lands under the Great American Outdoors Act he shepherded to approval in the Senate.

Democrat John Hickenlooper, who won Colorado’s Democratic Senate primary this week and the chance to face Gardner in November, said his rival’s silence on Pendley is unacceptable. The former governor’s campaign referred The Sun to a video statement the candidate posted to Twitter in which he calls Pendley “another terrible appointment by President Trump.”

Hickenlooper cited Pendley’s past support for selling public lands and his repeated denials of climate change, as well as his statements saying illegal immigration was spreading like a cancer.

“For the sake of our environment, our public lands, and for the sake of the people of Colorado. William Pendley cannot be confirmed,” Hickenlooper said.

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