Former BLM environmental analyst Walter Loewen. (PEER/Sophie Komornicki)

A group supporting public employees is challenging the firing of an environmental analyst who said the U.S. Bureau of Land Management’s approval of a Delaware-sized oilfield in Converse County failed to protect migratory birds as required.

Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility said in late November it is appealing the firing of Walter Loewen, who had been terminated about a week earlier. The six-year BLM employee in Wyoming had objected to his superiors’ disregard for deleterious effects development of 5,000 oil or gas wells near Douglas would have on nesting sites for ferruginous hawks, kestrels, owls and other birds.

Why it matters:

PEER contends Loewen ran afoul of the energy-dominance agenda of the Trump administration when he raised worries about the birds. The environmental analyst was fired under Trump-era rules that President Joe Biden’s administration had rescinded even before the latest termination machinations began, the watchdog group contends.

“Given the BLM’s record of butchering [the National Environmental Policy Act] during the Trump years, this action can be understood as a chastised bureaucracy seeking to kill the messenger,” PEER Senior Counsel Peter Jenkins wrote in a statement in November. “We look forward to highlighting the pro-oil and gas industry dysfunction within the Wyoming State [BLM] Office and how that led to this counterproductive decision.”

History:

The Bureau of Land Management approved the development in December 2020 despite criticism from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and others. The development across 2.4% of Wyoming’s landscape was projected to create 8,000 jobs and $18 billion to $28 billion in federal revenues.

But the agency had sidelined Loewen in 2019 after he raised worries about the birds, PEER contends. The whistleblower’s defenders took up his case in 2020. The initial termination effort fell short, but the BLM persisted and brought a new case against Loewen in 2021.

Who said what:

The BLM does not comment on personnel matters, an agency spokeswoman said in an email this week. But documents made public by PEER show the agency’s reasoning.

“This proposed removal is based on the charges of unacceptable performance and failure to follow instructions,” the BLM wrote Loewen. The explanation to the analyst from the BLM’s Wyoming planning branch chief ran 24 pages.

The whistleblower’s defenders said BLM fired Loewen “for disclosing major adverse impacts on migratory birds,” and based the action “on false allegations of misconduct.

“Mr. Loewen is entitled to full reinstatement and compensation for his back pay, back benefits, and his attorneys fees and costs,” PEER said in a statement.

Angus M. Thuermer Jr.

Angus M. Thuermer Jr. is the natural resources reporter for WyoFile. He is a veteran Wyoming reporter and editor with more than 35 years experience in Wyoming. Contact him at angus@wyofile.com or (307)...

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  1. It seems to me, the employee was under a performance improvement plan due to his poor workplace practices. The employee failed to meet the expectations of the plan, end of story.

  2. Without more information, it seems shortsighted to pass judgment on the firing.

    The BLM gets yo-yo’d from one admin to another and has many people to please. Can’t imagine how it can chart a path that pleases all.

  3. According to CPR News (Colorado Public Radio)11-26-21 The Bureau of Land Management this month announced it would re-evaluate the protected habitat for the greater sage-grouse, a buoyant bird with a guttural call found across the West, including northwest Colorado. The species and its sagebrush habitat have faced an ongoing decline, threatened not just by oil and gas drilling, but also extreme weather worsened by climate change, including wildfires, drought and heat waves, according to the agency. A federal management plan for grouse habitat was adopted in 2015 but faced pressure under the Trump administration; conservationists accused the Interior Department of disregarding those commitments by leasing priority lands for oil and gas drilling. The former administration attempted to weaken the bird’s protections for fossil fuel extraction several times, but was blocked by federal judges. Now, the BLM will take into account the increasing stress of climate change on the bird’s habitat and consider changes to the 2015 management plans. That includes more than 900,000 acres of priority habitat in northwest Colorado conserved by the federal government, according to data from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
    Bureau of Land Management representatives did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
    Colorado counties are also updating their own conservation plans. Garfield County commissioners earlier this month voted to expand the species’ protected habitat, 77 percent of which is privately owned, according to the county. Its plans will inform the larger efforts by the state and federal agencies.

    “There was a big change between these maps and there was a lot of give and take in the process,” Commissioner Tom Jankovsky said in a statement. “This is a good plan. It’s strong and something we can lean back on.”

    The BLM will accept public comment on the sage-grouse management plan until Feb. 7.

    On Friday, the U.S. Department of the Interior released a report of the federal oil and gas leasing program, another review pledged by Biden on his first day.

    The report found several failures within the system, including charging outdated royalty rates for parcels, underestimating the environmental impacts to land and water, and leasing millions of acres that do not produce oil or gas.

    The findings cite a recent report released by Taxpayers for Common Sense that the federal government missed out on $12.4 billion from oil and gas drilling last decade because of its low royalty rates. The report asks to increase those rates, as well as “avoid nomination or leasing of low potential lands and instead focus on areas that have moderate or high potential for oil and gas resources.”

    As of last year, oil and gas companies held 3,339 leases to drill on federal land in Colorado, the third-highest amount behind New Mexico and Wyoming, according to BLM data. Those leases encompassed 2.4 million acres of public land.

    My Great Grand father Harry Barton Card ( 1861-1947) got off the train in Cheyenne from Ohio in his teens to push cattle between Texas and Wyo. He homesteaded 160 acres in Converse County to start in 1893 shortly after Wyoming was a state and Grover Cleveland was President. He later expanded his ranching operations greatly , drilled for oil and was a banker in Manville where my other Great Grandfather Robert Thomas Cosby was the town Blacksmith and is buried in Manville . My dad was born in Manville 1915. I have deep roots and a love for the prairie lands of Wyo. It looks like Wyoming should follow Colorado and look out for Wyoming and not just increase the wealth of oil companies and their investors.
    Going another direction- Wyoming has potentially the largest source of Geothermal energy – a volcanic caldera 43 x 28 miles is in the northwest corner of the state ( I know it’s a national Park area ! ). Find a way to utilize and manage this energy in an environmentally safe way and generate electricity for cars and homes – avoid fossil fuels and pollution- that’s the trade off.. Bleeding off the energy off this super volcano which could destroy the whole united states potentially could be a national safety measure !! This source of energy could replace fossil fuel, draw -down on global warming, employ people but yes this has to be done in a way to not damage our national park!! This would have to be a national project like the space administration. Yes this would hurt existing oil and coal producers -it would largely replace them.
    Oh by all means give Former BLM environmental analyst Walter Loewen back his job !! He was doing his job for God’s sake!! Not playing golf every weekend costing millions of dollars ! He was attempting to protect what I love and hold in my heart with the memory of my ancestors – the prairie dwellers.

    1. Mr. Cosby, you stated;

      “…It looks like Wyoming should follow Colorado and look out for Wyoming and not just increase the wealth of oil companies and their investors…”

      I suggest you start with a far more praire damaging problem facing our state, “Wind mills”. Not only are they decimating the wide open ascetics of our prairies, they kill thousands of birds / raptors, are loud and simply highly visible, unwarranted intruders.

      You want to be honest with yourself and others; let’s see you stand up and fight against these “bird killers”!

      Thomas D. Moore
      Buffalo

    2. Thank you. Intelligent answers to real questions. Distracting the public from irregular forms of human resource management is a favorite tactic used by those who wilt under the heat lamp of public awareness. Pointing out that vested interests in resource exploitation have too long run roughshod over bureaucracies and bureaucrats is a strong position and likely justified if true transparency were the rule. Even more significant to me is the idea of using the massive, available source of geothermal industry under our feet to develop massive production of alternative energy. Rather than contract that out, I would hope that the Department of Energy jumpstart a pilot program to get that ball rolling working hand in glove with the Park Service and EPA. But do not allow private business interests to get their hands on those reins.

  4. The BLM has run amok for several years now, ignoring science and promoting abuse of public lands by for profit organizations. There needs to be a full investigation launched into the corruption within and a halt to all the leases they have approved and are pushing through at break neck speed.

  5. “No man is an island,
    Entire of itself.
    Each is a piece of the continent,
    A part of the main.
    If a clod be washed away by the sea,
    Europe is the less.
    As well as if a promontory were.

    Each man’s unjust firing diminishes me,
    For I am involved in mankind.
    Therefore, send not to know
    For whom the bell tolls,
    It tolls for thee.”

    Wyoming gets exactly the quality of state and federal leadership it chooses.

  6. Really, what could we expect in the third world state of Wyoming. Wildlife and the environment be dmmed, it’s all about that oil.

    1. Have you looked North driving I-25 from Douglas to Casper lately. Those three bladed “Monsters” that stretch along the ridges for miles, don’t look like the occasional, low profile well pumper to me.

      Seems to me it’s all about “Big Wind” providing electricity to these out-of-state greenies who don’t want to pay for the destruction of our states open prairie’s or the killing of yen’s of thousands of migratory, indigenous birds and raptors.