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BLM headquarters to move back to Washington

Secretary of Interior says Grand Junction will be agency’s western headquarters and that its presence in the city will grow
The Bureau of Land Management’s headquarters will move from Grand Junction back to Washington, D.C., the Interior Department announced Friday. (Colorado Public Radio file)

The Bureau of Land Management’s headquarters will move from Grand Junction back to Washington, D.C., the Interior Department announced Friday in a decision that comes despite objections from Colorado Democrats, including the state’s two U.S. senators, its governor and Republicans.

“The Bureau of Land Management is critical to the nation’s efforts to address the climate crisis, expand public access to our public lands, and preserve our nation’s shared outdoor heritage,” Interior Secretary Deb Haaland said in a written statement. “It is imperative that the bureau have the appropriate structure and resources to serve the American public. There’s no doubt that the BLM should have a leadership presence in Washington, D.C. – like all the other land management agencies – to ensure that it has access to the policy-, budget- and decision-making levers to best carry out its mission.”

Haaland said, however, that “the BLM’s robust presence in Colorado and across the West will continue to grow.”

Grand Junction will serve as the BLM’s “official western headquarters,” according to the Interior Department.

The Trump administration announced in July 2019 that the BLM’s headquarters would be moved to Grand Junction to be closer to the millions of acres of public lands it oversees. Critics of the relocation said it was done to help then-U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner, a Colorado Republican who was up for re-election in 2020 but lost.

But the relocation was also backed by a number of Colorado Democrats, including Gov. Jared Polis and U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet. U.S. Sen. John Hickenlooper, who beat Gardner last year, has also been advocating for the Biden administration to keep the agency’s headquarters in Colorado.

Rep. Lauren Boebert was also a vocal advocate of keeping the headquarters in Grand Junction, an area she represents. She recently passed an amendment in the House Committee on Natural Resources that prohibited money from being used from the 2022 budget to move the headquarters. She also introduced a bill in March mandating the headquarters remain in Grand Junction.

“The fight to keep the Bureau of Land Management in Grand Junction was always bipartisan, but when it came down to the wire, Senators Bennet and Hickenlooper folded and failed to stand up for Colorado by using procedural tools to leverage the Biden regime to keep the main Bureau of Land Management headquarters, Director, and senior leadership in Grand Junction,” Boebert said in a written statement.

Hickenlooper said earlier this month that he remained in “frequent conversation” with the Biden administration about the relocation question.

“I’ve learned the hard way that if you get too excited too early, you get disappointed,” he said. “We’ll see.”

Hickenlooper expressed hope Friday that the BLM’s expanded presence in Grand Junction will be a good thing.

“A western BLM headquarters in Colorado will help ensure we have a fully functioning agency that understands the West,” Hickenlooper said in a written statement. “We’ll keep working to secure jobs in Grand Junction, including senior leadership positions. To succeed, the western HQ must be a strong, permanent presence that engages the community and adds a western perspective and value to the BLM’s mission.”

Boebert also said she is satisfied with the decision for a western headquarters to remain in Grand Junction.

“While I’m disappointed with today’s decision and the details are light, this could still ultimately be a win for Grand Junction and the West as a western headquarters will remain in Grand Junction, more jobs will move to Grand Junction, and all the jobs that moved out West won’t be moved back to D.C.,” Boebert said.

Polis echoed those sentiments.

“The bottom line is that more senior BLM officials and decision-makers moving to the Grand Junction office is a good thing for Colorado and our country. The initial presence was far too small, and now I’m finally hopeful that the office will grow,” Polis said.

Bennet said he will hold the Biden administration accountable to creating an expanded presence in Grand Junction despite the headquarter’s move.

“In the coming months, I will hold the Administration accountable to ensure that the BLM Western Headquarters is permanent, fully staffed and informed by the voices of the Rocky Mountain West – after the last administration failed to deliver on that promise,” Bennet said in a statement Friday.

Aaron Weiss, deputy director of the Center for Western Priorities, praised the decision to move the headquarters back to D.C. Like other critics, he said the decision by the Trump administration drove out career employees and leadership.

More than 287 employees retired or found other jobs at the time of its relocation in 2019, according to data obtained by The Washington Post.

“The Bureau of Land Management oversees one-tenth of all lands in the United States, and the American people deserve an agency with a seat at the table when important decisions are being made in Washington,” Weiss said. “This move will help the agency rebuild and ensure that top Bureau of Land Management officials can bring their concerns directly to lawmakers, Interior Department leadership and the White House.”

Tracy Stone-Manning is still awaiting her confirmation vote for Bureau of Land Management director. The agency has not had a confirmed director since 2017.

Durango Herald staff writer Kelsey Carolan contributed to this report.

The Colorado Sun is a reader-supported, nonpartisan news organization dedicated to covering Colorado issues. To learn more, go to coloradosun.com.