Zinke to move BLM headquarters to the West, say Colorado lawmakers

Author: Colorado Politics - July 19, 2018 - Updated: July 22, 2018

In this May 9, 2017, file photo, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke rides a horse in Bears Ears National Monument near Blanding, Utah. Much of Bears Ears is on land administered by the Bureau of Land Management, which is part of Zinke’s department. (Scott G Winterton/The Deseret News via AP, File)

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 advisor 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.

WATCH the exchange between Gardner and Combs in the video at the end of this story.

Gardner provided this transcript of his exchange with Combs:

Gardner: “ … And finally I would like to know what is the department’s timeline in its evaluation for potential relocation of destinations for the Bureau of Land Management headquarters?”

Combs: “ … The secretary has made it clear that he does want to move BLM’s headquarters west and no location has been picked but that is something that we would expect to really take a look at in the next 6 months or so, 8 months, but we do that very carefully, very thoughtfully, because the fact that you don’t just pick a spot, you have to do the analysis, what’s its flight back and forth (sic), what’s the cost of living, what’s it like to live there because you want people to go where they’re going to be happy.”

Gardner: “But the bottom line is the secretary does intend to relocate and move out of Washington DC to the west, the Bureau of Land Management?”

Combs: “Absolutely.”

> RELATED: Grand Junction shines as D.C. eyes new home for BLM

In a statement, Gardner said:

Moving the BLM headquarters West has been a top priority of mine in the Senate, and I was glad the Interior Department confirmed to me again – that they agree with my plan. Making this agency more accountable to the people who have to deal with its management decisions by putting its headquarters among the land it manages would be a great start to modernizing for the next 100 years. I’ll continue to make the case about why Colorado and the West is where this agency belongs.

Bennet issued his own statement hailing the news:

It is good to hear the Department of the Interior is upholding its commitment to move the BLM headquarters West. We look forward to working closely with the Department as it conducts its evaluation, and we re-extend our invitation to Secretary Zinke to visit Colorado to see for himself why there is no better home for the BLM headquarters. We must ensure this move is more than symbolic and provides the resources necessary to manage our public lands and improve agency decision making.

U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton, R-Cortez — also an advocate for Grand Junction, which is located in his district — was first to reveal Combs’ comments in a statement earlier Thursday, which said:

I commend Secretary Zinke for upholding his commitment to move BLM headquarters west. 99 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 Third District for the new BLM headquarters.

In an opinion piece that 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, 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 to The Salt Lake Tribune 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.

Colorado Politics

Colorado Politics

Colorado Politics, formerly The Colorado Statesman, is the state's premier political news publication, renowned for its award-winning journalism. The publication is also the oldest political news outlet in the state, in continuous publication since 1898. Colorado Politics covers the stories behind the stories in Colorado's state Capitol and across the Centennial State, focusing on politics, public policy and elections with in-depth reporting on the people behind the campaigns — from grassroots supporters to campaign managers and the candidates and issues themselves.