Biden administration to move BLM headquarters back to D.C. from Grand Junction

‘Western headquarters’ for public lands agency will remain in Colorado

By: - September 17, 2021 3:22 pm
Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland

Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland speaks during a visit to Grand Junction on July 23, 2021. Listening, from left, are Sen. Michael Bennet, Reps. Lauren Boebert and Joe Neguse, Gov. Jared Polis and Sen. John Hickenlooper. (Sharon Sullivan for Colorado Newsline)

President Joe Biden’s administration announced on Friday that it would return the headquarters of the Bureau of Land Management to Washington, D.C., reversing a controversial decision by the Trump administration — with the support of a bipartisan array of Colorado political leaders — to relocate the office to Grand Junction.

The BLM’s Grand Junction office will instead serve as the “Western headquarters” for the agency, which manages nearly 250 million acres of federally-owned public lands, the vast majority of them in the West.

“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,” Interior Secretary Deb Haaland said in a statement. “In addition, the BLM’s robust presence in Colorado and across the West will continue to grow.”

Though championed by top Colorado Democrats like Gov. Jared Polis and Sens. Michael Bennet and John Hickenlooper, the BLM’s headquarters relocation was heavily criticized by conservation groups and Democrats nationally, who argued that the Trump administration’s “reorganization” of the agency was a thinly disguised effort to dismantle it.

While the new Grand Junction headquarters was once touted as having the potential to draw hundreds of jobs to the Western Slope, Newsline reported in June that only three agency employees had accepted relocation to the new office.

“The previous administration relocated the BLM headquarters to Grand Junction, Colo., a move that failed to deliver promised jobs across the West and drove hundreds of people out of the agency,” the Interior Department said in a press release. “This led to a significant loss of institutional memory and talent.”

 The Robert F. Burford Bureau of Land Management Headquarters in Grand Junction on May 21, 2021. (Chase Woodruff/Colorado Newsline)

In a statement on Friday’s announcement, Rep. Lauren Boebert, the first-term Republican congresswoman representing Grand Junction, took aim at Bennet and Hickenlooper.

“When it came down to the wire, Sens. 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.

The Colorado Wildlands Project, a Western Slope-based conservation group, praised Haaland’s “balanced decision” in a press release.

“This decision is responsive to input from stakeholders and agency staff,” said Scott Braden, the group’s director. “Importantly (it) helps to put this lingering issue behind us so that the BLM can rebuild and meet the significant needs of the moment, such as reforming a broken oil and gas leasing system, managing surging recreation and meeting the conservation goals of President Biden’s ‘America the Beautiful’ vision.”

Hickenlooper, who had encouraged Haaland to consider keeping the BLM’s headquarters in Grand Junction during her confirmation before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, issued a statement expressing support for what his office called a “dual headquarters.”

“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.”

Haaland visited Grand Junction in July. During the trip she said she hoped to make a decision about the BLM headquarters location soon. She acknowledged “being connected to the West is a good thing” but added that there are many facets to the BLM.

As for timing, “logistics and planning” will occur in the coming months, according to the Interior press release, which did not specify when the move will be completed.

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Chase Woodruff
Chase Woodruff

Chase Woodruff covers the environment, the economy and other stories for Colorado Newsline. He formerly was a staff writer at Westword, Denver’s alt-weekly, and has covered climate change, labor, music, international soccer and other beats. He previously was a contributor for Capital & Main, where he worked on investigations into campaign finance, oil and gas, and the financial sector, and his byline has appeared in such publications as Vice, Paste Magazine and The Trace.

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