Former BLM Director Says Wyoming Would Win If It Sues Over Rock Springs Plan

The Bureau of Land Management’s controversial Rock Springs management plan for 3.6 million acres of public land probably won’t stand up to court challenges because it’s unconstitutional, says former BLM Director William Perry Pendley.

Mark Heinz

October 23, 20234 min read

Oregon Buttes is part of a huge swath of federal land that's included in the Rock Springs Resource Management Plan.
Oregon Buttes is part of a huge swath of federal land that's included in the Rock Springs Resource Management Plan. (Getty Images)

Wyoming will likely win if it ends up in court against the federalBureau of Land Management over its controversial Rock Springs Resource Management Plan, said the agency’s former director.

In the most basic terms, the Rock Springs Resource Management Plan in its current form is unconstitutional, William Perry Pendley told Cowboy State Daily on Monday.

“That’s because it represents an attempt by the Biden administration to exercise authority over public land that only Congress has,” he said. “Congress declares how this (BLM) land is to be used. And it’s for multiple use, not preservation.”

Pendley was director of the BLM under the Trump administration from 2019-2021.

Wyoming Should Sue

A Wyoming native, Pendley also has worked for decades as an attorney representing clients in disputes with federal land management agencies such as the BLM and U.S. Forest Service.  

Gov. Mark Gordon’s office has considered suing the BLM over the current draft plan for roughly 3.6 million acres managed out of the agency’s Rock Springs office, most of it in Sweetwater County.

If a lawsuit goes forward, it will likely succeed because the Biden administration and BLM are out of line in trying to declare about half of that land, 1.8 million acres, as “areas of critical environmental concern” (ACES) and essentially off-limits, Pendley said.

The matter could probably be settled in Federal District Court or possibly the Federal 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver, he said.

William Perry Pendley
William Perry Pendley (Cowboy State Daily Staff)

Conservation Vs. Preservation

An update of the Rock Springs RMP has been in the works for years, and the BLM has outlined four alternatives.

Alternative A proposes leaving things as they are. Alternative B — the controversial plan favored by the BLM and Biden administration — leans heavily toward conservation. Alternative C skews the other way, toward as much energy development and other heavy uses as possible.

Alternative D would strike a balance between the extremes. Sweetwater County commissioners and others have said that’s the alternative they favor and what would work best for Wyoming.  

Pendley said that the weak point in Alternative B is misuse of the term “conservation.”

“They’re not talking about conservation. They’re talking about preservation,” Pendley said. “Conservation is not preservation. It means wise use. It means using resources in a way that maintains them. It means multiple use and sustained yield.”

Only Congress Can Preserve Land

The mission of the BLM is to manage land for multiple uses and the measured extraction of resources, such as mining and energy development, Pendley said. In other words, conservation in the true sense of that term.

The proposed ACES designation for half the Rock Springs area is tantamount to declaring that area wilderness, or land that must be preserved and left completely undisturbed, he said.

And only Congress has the authority to make such declarations through the Wilderness Act, the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act or similar measures, Pendley said.

The Antiquities Act is the only measure by which a presidential administration can set aside land for complete preservation, and its scope is limited, he said.

Part Of ‘30x30’

As Pendley sees it, the Biden Administration is trying to use the Rock Springs RMP and similar plans on federal land across the West to meet the goals of the “30x30 plan.” That’s an ambitions plan to set aside for preservation 30% of the land in the U.S. andelsewhere in world by the year 2030.

“They get to those numbers by declaring half of the Rock Springs management area ACES,” Pendley said.

He added that similar steps are being proposed for vast swaths of BLM land in the Moab, Utah, area and elsewhere across the West.

That could shut the land off from numerous uses, including cattle grazing, archeology, motorized recreation and energy extraction, he said.

Won’t Join This Fight

Pendley said if Gordon’s office moves forward with suing the BLM over the Rock Springs RMP, other stakeholders could join in.

And that could even include some people outside Wyoming. For example, there are ranchers in Utah who rely on grazing leases in the Rock Springs management area who could stand to lose if Alternative B goes through, Pendley said.

He added that he has no plans to join the fray this time.

“Governor Gordon is in the best position to represent the people of Wyoming and sue the Bureau of Land Management,” Pendley said. “The governor already has his attorneys, he’s well-represented.”

Mark Heinz can be reached at

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Mark Heinz

Outdoors Reporter