BLM headquarters returns to Washington

Home Secretary Haaland said the office will expand its western office to Grand Junction, Colorado.

(Rick Bowmer | AP, pool) US Home Secretary Deb Haaland tours old dwellings along the Butler Wash Trail during a visit to the Bears Ears National Monument on Thursday, April 8, 2021, near Blanding.

After a two-year stint in Colorado, the headquarters of the Bureau of Land Management is returning to Washington, DC, Home Secretary Deb Haaland said on Friday in a meeting with BLM employees.

Haaland’s Republican predecessors orchestrated the 2019 migration of BLM’s executive staff to a new headquarters in Grand Junction, Colo., And to already established state offices. The stated purpose of this relocation was to bring land management leaders closer to the western communities most connected to the public lands overseen by the agency. But many career staff resigned or retired rather than relocate, and many positions had been left vacant for months, leaving the new headquarters a rather quiet place.

“The past few years have been incredibly disruptive for the organization, our officials and their families. As we move forward, my priority is to revitalize and rebuild the BLM so that it can meet the pressing challenges of our time and ensure the well-being of our employees, ”Haaland said on Friday. “I look forward to continuing to work with Congress, tribes, elected officials and the many stakeholders who care about the stewardship of our shared public lands and healthy communities. “

While leaders in Utah and other Western states have hailed the Trump administration’s decision to move BLM’s headquarters west, the Biden administration’s plan to move it back to the nation’s capital has sparked praise from environmental groups for calling it a first step towards repairing “significant damage”. to a 7,000-employee agency that manages 11 percent of all land in the United States, including 23 million acres in Utah.

“The weakness of the BLM is that it is a highly decentralized organization with a large majority of staff scattered across the West and it is good to have management staff in DC where they can work with the administration. and Congress, ”said Scott Groene, executive director of the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, or SUWA. Trump’s decision to move the seat west “was a terrible political act intended to decimate the agency and advance the re-election of a Republican senator from Colorado.”

Groene was referring to Senator Cory Gardner, who was overthrown in 2020 by Democrat John Hickenlooper. The former Colorado governor backed Trump’s decision to move the BLM headquarters to his state and recently urged Biden to establish a “full seat” in Grand Junction.

“We believe that such an effort must be more than symbolic and must include the personnel and resources necessary to improve management and protect our public lands,” wrote Hickenlooper and fellow Democratic Senator Michael Bennet in a letter to Biden shortly. time after his inauguration. “A full Colorado headquarters would not only grow the economy of Western Colorado, but also send an important signal that rural America is a suitable location for such a prestigious institution.”

Utah Representative John Curtis, a Republican, said the BLM headquarters should remain in the West.

“We have legitimately moved their headquarters to Colorado, and closer to where directors could conscientiously exercise their responsibilities and be closer to the stakeholders involved,” he said. “Reversing this decision gives power back to those with the most wealth and access, not those really affected by the Office. “

But SUWA and advocacy groups saw the move west as an attempt to force career workers and empty the ranks of BLM leaders.

“The American people deserve an agency with a seat at the table when important decisions are made in Washington,” said Jennifer Rokala, executive director of the Denver-based Center for Western Priorities. ” This movement [back to D.C.] will help the agency rebuild and ensure that senior officials in the Bureau of Land Management can raise concerns directly to lawmakers, Home Office officials and the White House.

Under Trump, the BLM saw a string of interim leaders come and go, ending with William Perry Pendley, a property rights lawyer who had previously made a career out of suing the BLM and wondering if it was even appropriate for the federal government to own millions of acres.

Nine months after President Joe Biden took office, the BLM leadership vacuum persists. Her candidate for BLM director Montanan Tracy Stone-Manning has stalled amid allegations she was involved in a tree-hanging incident more than 30 years ago in Idaho .

Trump’s plan was to move 328 DC positions to state and district offices in West and Grand Junction. This turned out to be a failure with a majority of these staff members choosing to resign.

“Only 41 of those affected have moved, including 3 to Grand Junction,” Interior said in its announcement Friday. “This has resulted in a significant loss of institutional memory and talent. The siege transition [back to D.C.] will be conducted with the aim of minimizing further disruption to employees and their families. “

The BLM, meanwhile, is not relinquishing its 2-year presence at Grand Junction, but will instead expand as the official headquarters of the West.

“This office will enhance Western perspectives in decision-making and will have an important role to play in the office’s clean energy, outdoor recreation, conservation and scientific missions, among other important work as a center of leadership. in the West, ”the Interior Ministry said. .

Haaland said the BLM will play a pivotal role in tackling the climate crisis, expanding public access to public lands and preserving the nation’s common external heritage.

She also affirmed her commitment to create a newly authorized congressional BLM foundation that would focus on building new partnerships, and that the office would work to “strengthen government-to-government relationships with Indian tribes” and appoint tribal state bonds.

“It is imperative that the office has the proper structure and resources to serve the American public,” Haaland said. “There is no doubt that the BLM should have a leadership presence in Washington, DC, like all other land management agencies, to ensure that it has access to the political, budgetary and decision-making levers to best conduct his mission . “

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