WASHINGTON, D.C. – Like many departments and agencies within the executive branch, the Bureau of Land Management has its headquarters in Washington. But Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Colorado, and Congressman Scott Tipton, R-Cortez, want to change that.
Gardner introduced a bill in the U.S. Senate to instruct Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to develop a plan to move the headquarters of the BLM to a western state. Tipton has introduced the companion bill in the U.S. House of Representatives.
“One of the consistent concerns I hear from (constituents) is they feel like sometimes Washington doesn’t listen to them. They feel like they have a great relationship with their local BLM office, but something happens on the way to Washington that changes that process,” Gardner said.
The BLM, part of the Department of the Interior, manages about 250 million acres of land, more than 99 percent of which are west of the Mississippi River.
“When you are living and out on those lands every day, you sort of have a different perspective. There’s a lot to be said about having those conversations and those experiences on a daily basis,” said Liz Payne, Tipton’s spokeswoman.
About 9,000 BLM employees work throughout the United States, and another nearly 600 in its headquarters in Washington.
According to estimates, about 400 employees in the BLM headquarters would be considered for a move; some positions would remain in Washington.
“The idea is to simply break up the Washington mentality, to bring the leadership to where the land is,” Gardner said. “This is putting the management and the decision-makers in the same place as those affected by those decisions.”
Both Gardner and Tipton have expressed support for the headquarters to move to Grand Junction, but the bill does not specify a potential location for a new headquarters.
Gardner said, “It makes sense to have it in the Western slope of Colorado,” based on its proximity to the interstate, air access and nearby states with high concentration of BLM land.
If Grand Junction is chosen to host the new headquarters, it could be a potential economic driver for the city and Colorado.
The bill does specify that a new headquarters be located in Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, Washington or Wyoming.
If the bill passes, there would be an open process to choose a site.
“It’ll be a little bit of a western food fight, so to speak, if it gets passed,” said Gardner.
In October 2015, then-presidential candidate Jeb Bush proposed that the BLM headquarters be moved to the west.
“Obviously, public lands issues are very complicated and there’s multiple levels there, so even just having the headquarters out in a western state would allow the people who work in the headquarters to have a better picture of some of the complexities of some of the issues,” said Payne.
Moving the BLM headquarters to the west would also give county commissioners the “ability to get in front of decision-makers,” without having to fly to Washington, said Gardner.
The bill has received support from Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, Denver Mayor Michael Hancock, the Hinsdale County Commissioners, the Grand County Commissioners, the Montezuma County Commissioners, the Colorado Farm Bureau and Club 20, a Western Colorado bipartisan coalition.
“I truly believe that those who know the best way to manage the land are those who live on the land. Managing our natural resources would be most effective when you can see the challenges in person and not on a computer or in a report,” Colorado Commissioner of Agriculture Don Brown said in a statement.
“Moving the BLM headquarters to the Western United States will demonstrate BLM’s commitment to the people living amongst these lands that they will listen and work with local residents,” the Montezuma County Board of Commissioners said in a letter to Gardner.
There is no estimate for how much the move would cost, but Gardner said they would ensure it would be as “cost-effective” as possible.
Gardner said, “It’s about local. You know how you have the local food movement? Well, we ought to have a local decision-making movement.”
Shira Stein is a reporting intern for the Herald in Washington, D.C., and a student at American University. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow her on Twitter @stein_shira.