U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke is moving ahead on relocating the U.S. Bureau of Land Management’s headquarters to an undetermined location in the West, members of Colorado’s congressional delegation said Thursday.
Grand Junction is expected to be a prime possibility for the new national headquarters, partly because of the work of Colorado’s two U.S. senators, Republican Cory Gardner and Democrat Michael Bennet.
In a statement, Gardner said that Susan Combs – senior adviser at the Interior Department, which runs BLM – made the comment about moving BLM west in response to his question at a hearing of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.
The department will conduct an analysis to help choose a location in the next six to eight months, Combs told the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, according to the release.
U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton, R-Cortez – an advocate for Grand Junction, which is located in his district – was first to reveal Combs’ comments in a statement earlier Thursday.
“I commend Secretary Zinke for upholding his commitment to move BLM headquarters west,” Tipton said in a news release. “Ninety-nine percent of the land that the BLM manages is located in the West, and the decisions made by the Bureau have daily impacts on those who live there, so it only makes sense to move the headquarters to a Western state. This would ensure that decisions would be made by those who understand the land best, resulting in more effective land management programs and policies. The district I am fortunate enough to represent serves as a microcosm of almost every Western land-management issue, and I encourage the Department of the Interior to strongly consider Colorado’s 3rd District for the new BLM headquarters.”
In an opinion piece Tipton wrote for Colorado Politics in February, the congressman noted that “while the BLM has over 10,000 employees, all major decisions are made by just 400 employees based in Washington.” He said that “in the past, a lack of understanding and awareness can lead to some very flawed policies.”
Congress will make the final decision on authorizing the move. Gardner and Tipton already have introduced legislation to authorize the move to the West.
David Bernhardt, who grew up in Rifle and is the second-in-command at the Department of Interior, told Colorado Politics in an interview this month that partisan attacks on the Trump administration proposal could slow the effort, if Democrats win a majority in either chamber in November.
A number of possible destinations for BLM have been discussed.
Last August, the environmental website E&E News reported that Zinke had told a private meeting that Denver “will probably” become the host of three major Interior divisions with moves being made in the 2019 fiscal year, which begins next Oct. 1. The report cited BLM, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation. E&E News got hold of notes from a meeting in Denver last July with senior staff of the U.S. Geological Survey, another Interior agency.
Also last August, the Interior’s associate deputy secretary, James Cason, named BLM and the Fish and Wildlife Service as candidates for a move west.
Zinke last November mentioned Salt Lake City and Denver as possible BLM destinations.
Of its 245 million acres nationwide, BLM administers 8.3 million acres in Colorado. Nationally, there are another 181 million acres controlled by the Fish and Wildlife Service and National Park Service, also Interior agencies, and 193 million under the U.S. Forest Service, part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
The federal government collectively owns more than 50 percent of Western states, but only about 4 percent of the federal lands are east of Colorado.
Already, the 623-acre Denver Federal Center campus in Lakewood houses offices for 28 federal agencies, including regional offices of several Interior divisions like BLM and the Geological Survey. And Interior is Colorado’s largest non-military federal employer, with nearly 7,000 workers in the state.