Sen. Cory Gardner and Rep. Scott Tipton are ramping up their calls to move the Bureau of Land Management headquarters from Washington, D.C., to the West.
They’ve introduced similar legislation in the House and Senate, called the Bureau of Land Management Headquarters Relocation Act, which directs the Department of Interior to create a strategy.
“Better decisions are made when they are surrounded by people who are affected by the decisions,” Gardner said in a phone interview Thursday.
According to the Congressional Research Service, with 93 percent of public lands located in Western states, the two Republicans argue that the BLM should not be regulated from Washington.
“You would be transplanting people out of D.C. out to the area that they’re actually designed to serve,” Tipton said in a phone interview.
Understanding the needs on Western public lands is sometimes lost in the distance between local communities and their BLM regulators in Washington, Tipton said.
“We often get bogged down when what’s coming out of Washington isn’t translated fully back to our local communities,” Tipton said. “More importantly, what our local communities need isn’t translated back properly to Washington.”
Gardner said people who work for the BLM are generally happy with decisions made by their local field office. But decisions out of Washington sometime negatively affect local issues.
“(People think) they’re on the same wavelength as the local BLM office,” Gardner said. “Then when that decision gets elevated to the Potomac, that’s when everything seems to go haywire.”
Tipton said he sees it happening with the BLM’s efforts to combat the pine beetle in Colorado’s forests. Over the last 20 years, the insect has destroyed more than 3.4 million acres of Colorado’s forests, according to the Colorado Forest Service.
“(We need) to get in and actually address that, understand how it impacts our waterways, how it impacts the wild land and urban interfaces that we have,” Tipton said. “It’s not fully translated in terms of some policy we see coming out.”
On the Senate floor last week, Gardner pitched the idea of moving the BLM headquarters to Grand Junction.
“I think Grand Junction makes a lot of sense,” Gardner said. “It’s got great air service, it’s right on the interstate and it’s close to a number of public lands states.”
The legislation doesn’t specifically outline Grand Junction, only that the BLM relocate to a Western state.
“The most important part of this is getting this to the West,” Gardner said. “I think Grand Junction is looked upon very favorably by the Department of Interior.”
Moving the headquarters would affect about 500 federal employees based in Washington. How the agency would handle moving its employees would be left up to the Interior administration, Tipton said.
Relocating headquarters to the Third Congressional District would have a significant economic impact on Colorado, Tipton said.
“You would have those direct jobs coming out (to Colorado),” he said. “We understand that those are people who are going to buy homes, people that are going to be shopping at local stores.”
Since Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke took office, he’s made it his goal to restructure the department and has publicly supported moving the BLM, Bureau of Reclamation and Fish and Wildlife Service out West. In May last year, Gardner and Tipton introduced bills in their chambers to move the BLM, and in the past few months, Gardner has continued to push Zinke on the issue.
“I spoke to Secretary Zinke (Wednesday) again about the idea and I said, ‘Hey, you got to move this,’” Gardner said. “I think that they are looking very favorably with the reorganization moving (BLM) to the West.”
Andrew Eversden is an intern with The Durango Herald and a student at American University in Washington, D.C.