The Bureau of Land Management is moving much of its Washington D.C. office to the West.
The Trump Administration says it's a move to get the BLM closer to the West, where most of the 245 million acres of land it manages reside.
Critics, including Patrick Donnelly, director of the Nevada Center for Biological Diversity, say it's a move meant to weaken the BLM, as many career employees with long-term knowledge and know-how will refuse to make the move from the East Coast.
"Ninety-five percent of BLM staff are already in the field," Donnelly told KNPR's State of Nevada, "They are already in the states. You are talking about a couple of hundred staff that are in D.C. It is almost a skeleton crew, as it is today."
Donnelly said the idea of shipping off those key leadership positions to more rural areas as a way to improve management is "ludicrous."
"It is meant to disembowel the agency," he said, "And ultimately lead to the selloff our public lands."
One of the reasons Donnelly and others see the move that way is the opinions of acting BLM chief William Perry Pendley. In the past, Pendley has advocated selling off public land, Donnelly noted.
"He wrote an article entitled 'The Founding Fathers Intended All Lands Owned by the Federal Government to be Sold,'" Donnelly said, "That was an essay he wrote just a few years ago."
Donnelley also explained that in Pendley's conflict of interest documents submitted to the Department of Interior before taking the position at the BLM said he had 57 conflicts of interest from litigation in which he had been involved.
"He's made his career suing the federal government trying to get rid of public lands," Donnelly said.
Pendley did nothing to ease the controversy last week.
At a conference of environmental journalists in Colorado, Pendley refused to answer some questions and said his previous beliefs in climate change don’t matter.
Heidi Kyser, staff writer for Desert Companion magazine, which is published by Nevada Public Radio, attended the conference and was at the luncheon where Pendley addressed questions from reporters.
She said a New York Times environmental desk reporter asked him to clarify his tweet that compared climate change to a unicorn because neither of them exist.
"His response was, 'Nope, I'm not going to clarify,'" she said, "Being in a room of something like 400 environmental reporters, writers, producers, obviously they were going to hold him to account for this. Reporters were lined up at the microphones 10 deep to ask questions about things he said."
Kyser said after being pressed Pendley eventually said his boss, DOI Secretary David Bernhardt, does believe climate change is a real problem and he would follow his leader's opinion on it.
The connection between the BLM and DOI policy and addressing climate change is an important one, Kyser said.
"The link, obviously, between climate change and public land, especially as it relates to national policy... extraction of fossil fuels from public lands, of course, contributes to the production of CO2, which contributes to the warming environment and so these things do overlap."
Conservationists dub limiting of fossil fuel extraction on public land - "Leave It in the Ground," which Pendley called "insane," during the luncheon.
Donnely said that while Nevada isn't a large state for fossil fuel production it is a large state for fossil fuel consumption. He said the idea of "Leave It in the Ground" means not starting any new drilling for fossil fuels.
"Science is very clear," Donnelly said, "We can't keep developing fossil fuels if we hope to avert a climate catastrophe."
Patrick Donnelly, director, Nevada Center for Biological Diversity; Heidi Kyser, writer/reporter, Desert Companion magazine
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