A message sent yesterday to all Bureau of Land Management employees is a version of what has been affectionally known over the years as a “Moses Letter”.
During the heat of an exceptionally busy wildfire season the top leadership of federal land management agencies sometimes send a message to all employees beseeching them to make as many people available as possible to help with the firefighting effort.
“Let My People Go!” is a line from the spiritual “Go Down Moses.” The phrase originates in the Book of Exodus 5:1:
And afterward Moses and Aaron went in, and told Pharaoh, Thus saith the Lord God of Israel, Let my people go, that they may hold a feast unto me in the wilderness.
Yesterday’s message was sent by William Perry Pendley (who adds “Esq.” after his name in his signature). Mr. Pendley is the Deputy Director for Policy and Programs in the BLM, but is serving as the effective head of the agency — the administration has left the position of BLM director empty for President Trump’s entire presidency.
Messages like this are not usually seen until mid- to late summer when thousands of firefighters are battling wildfires and resources are scarce. Anticipating resource shortages due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the letter was sent preemptively, months earlier than has been typical.
Here is an excerpt from Mr. Pendley’s Moses Letter:
“During these challenging times, our firefighters need our help. That is why we are working to provide opportunities to permit each one of us, safely and effectively, to support wildland firefighting in some capacity. BLM employees can help in many areas other than operational firefighting, for example, finance, logistics, planning, and public information. Incident Management Teams need members with these skills to support firefighters and communities. Local area support is also needed in dispatch centers and fire supply caches.
“The need is real. The National Interagency Fire Center’s Predictive Services group, which closely analyzes weather and vegetation to create the most accurate wildland fire outlook possible, foresees above-normal wildland fire activity this year. Following a dry fall and winter, drought is emerging and expanding across California, Oregon, and Nevada, that is, much of the Great Basin near our headquarters in Grand Junction. Additionally, we see increased use of our public lands during the pandemic, which could increase human-caused fires.
“For all these reasons, I’m asking managers to support employee participation in wildland fire support functions. Fire managers have the responsibility to share training schedules and educate non-fire personnel on the opportunities available, and to provide safe wildland fire suppression operations during the pandemic.
“Support for emergencies such as wildland fire management may take precedence over non-emergency activities. Workforce contingency plans set priorities and shift local capabilities in order to continue critical work when incident response is necessary. Employees not qualified or otherwise unavailable to directly assist with wildland fires can indirectly support the effort by filling in behind their peers to ensure that the BLM’s important daily work continues uninterrupted.”
The song below is also known as “Let my people go.”