Randy Serraglio with the Center for Biological Diversity says border wall construction threatens endangered species at the San Bernardino refuge.

Arizona Republic

LAS CRUCES – As construction workers continued to erect steel bollard fencing along the southern border in New Mexico Friday, an Interior department official emphasized the federal Bureau of Land Management’s role in realizing President Donald Trump’s goal of completing the border wall. 

“It has been my experience … that in our role to protect the environment and conserving public lands, the best way to do that is through border security,” Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Land and Minerals Management Casey Hammond said in a telephone interview. 

“Congress has given us a lot of responsibility,” he continued. “When it declares an area a wilderness, that means the land is supposed to be ‘untrammeled.’ That’s what the law says. It’s difficult to do that when you have illegal traffic going through, and smuggling in various forms.”

When Hammond spoke to the Las Cruces Sun-News on Friday, BLM’s leadership structure remained unclear following a federal court ruling removing the bureau’s acting director.

Who’s in charge of BLM?

William Perry Pendley (Photo: Bureau of Land Management)

In September, a federal judge removed William Perry Pendley as the bureau’s acting director after he had served for more than a year without being confirmed by the U.S. Senate.

Yet Pendley remains at the bureau and on Monday he was listed as deputy director on its website. Pendley, a former attorney for the oil and gas industry, told the Casper Star-Tribune last week that he continues to function as BLM’s acting head but that Interior Secretary David Bernhardt will sign off on all documents.

“At the end of the day, me, Perry, any one of our many BLM employees — we all report to the Secretary of the Interior,” Hammond told the Sun-News.

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President Trump’s temporary appointment in 2019 made Pendley the fifth consecutive interim chief at the bureau, which manages 245 million surface acres and 700 million acres of subsurface mineral estate in the United States. 

Chief district judge Brian Morris of the U.S. District Court of Montana ruled Pendley’s appointment unlawful under the Federal Vacancies Reform Act, which limits the length of time allowed for such temporary appointments.

The president has frequently named temporary leaders to key federal posts rather than make formal nominations that would be subject to confirmation hearings. 

BLM ‘partners’ in erecting border wall

“Over the past several years, we’ve seen our land managers on our ground do an outstanding job working with our partners at the Border Patrol and that’s something that’s really encouraging to see,” Hammond said, emphasizing that BLM was an “active partner” with the federal Department of Homeland Security.

Building a wall between the United States and Mexico was a signature promise of Trump’s campaign for the presidency in 2016, along with a vow that Mexico would pay for it.