Home on the Range

by Kayla Sargent

After several years of lobbying efforts beginning with the Obama Administration, Senator Cory Gardner (R-CO) announced BLM headquarters will be moving to Grand Junction, Colorado.

Senator Gardner confidently called it a “historic day for our nation’s public lands, western states, and the people of Colorado” after receiving notice of the details in a letter from the Department of Interior (DOI).  The letter, addressed to The Honorable Lisa Murkowski and signed by DOI Assistant Secretary for Land and Minerals Joseph Balash, detailed the proposed reorganization plan drafted to “serve the American people more efficiently and advance the BLM’s multiple-use, sustained yield mission.”

“Time and time again, the Secretary has received feedback from Members of Congress, Governors, local officials, and citizens closest to the resources that their BLM State, District, or Field Office is understaffed or lacks resources to support the needs of their constituents,” the letter states.  “Under our proposal every Western State will gain additional staff resources.”

The Department determined that BLM reorganization should achieve three objectives: delegate more responsibility to the field; maximize services to the American people; and increase the BLM’s presence closest to the resources it manages.  Beyond establishing national headquarters in Grand Junction, the Department will maintain “necessary D.C. based functions”; relocate “some headquarter positions” to State Offices in the West; and allocate certain positions to State Offices.

Under the proposal, 27 positions will be transferred to the newly established headquarters in Grand Junction including the BLM Director, Deputy Director of Operations, and Assistant Directors.  Two-hundred-ninety-six employees currently working in D.C. will be relocated to various locations throughout BLM western regions.  The Deputy Director of Policy and Programs and 60 other staff members will remain in Washington D.C.

“Shifting critical leadership positions and supporting staff to western states — where an overwhelming majority of federal lands are located — is not only a better management system, it is beneficial to the interest of the American public in these communities, cities, counties, and states,” Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt said.

The move of programs and resources to state offices should make BLM operations more efficient.  For example, 14 rangeland management positions will be transferred to Idaho where “a long and complex history of litigation” exists and over 1,900 grazing permits are managed with limited BLM staff in the field.  Nevada offices will add 49 additional employees as 67 percent of the state is federal land and programs like the wild horse and burro program, where the populations are largest, demand more resources.

The Montana Stockgrowers Association (MSGA) and Montana Public Lands Council have been following this proposal since it was first introduced by former Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke.  MSGA Executive Vice President Jay Bodner said they support the reorganization as Montana is home to 8.3 million acres and roughly 4,000 grazing permits so BLM “has a significant impact on the ranches in Montana.”  Bodner said the move would allow for more direct interaction with top agency officials and present opportunities to demonstrate “the positive benefits ranching provides to these lands” firsthand.

“It’s critical for agency staff to have a strong presence in the areas they manage, and a relocation of key staff to the west is certainly one component of accomplishing that,” Public Lands Council Executive Director and NCBA Senior Director of Federal Lands Ethan Lane said.  “Our hope is that these newly relocated staff members will take advantage of the opportunity to get out of the office and onto the ground as frequently as possible.”

The proposal is still subject to congressional review and while Senator Gardner said there is strong bipartisan support for the changes, not all lawmakers agree it is the best idea.  Congressman Raul Grijalva (D-AZ), House Natural Resources Committee Chair, said the Trump administration has ignored his committees’ request for “transparency” on the move.

“This administration has been handing over public lands to fossil fuel companies at record speed and this move is part of that agenda.  Putting BLM headquarters down the road from Secretary Bernhardt’s home town just makes it easier for special interests to walk in the door demanding favors without congressional oversight or accountability,” Congressman Grijalva said.

He said BLM officials currently based in D.C. are there to work with Congress and that “function will take a permanent hit if this move goes forward.”

“The agency will lose a lot of good people because of this move and I suspect that’s the administration’s real goal here,” he concluded.


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