Estimated read time: 4-5 minutes
SALT LAKE CITY — Gov. Spencer Cox and Lt. Gov. Deidre Henderson sent a letter to Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland Tuesday, urging her to reverse her recommendation last week to relocate the Bureau of Land Management headquarters back to Washington, D.C. only a year after it was formally moved Grand Junction, Colorado.
"We are profoundly disappointed with the administration's decision to move BLM's headquarters back to Washington, D.C., thousands of miles away from the BLM lands and the people who bear the brunt of the agency's decisions," Cox and Henderson wrote in the letter.
"We urge the administration to immediately reverse its decision and return BLM headquarters to the West," they later added. "The health and success of the BLM's lands depend on land managers who intimately understand the landscape and work in concert with states, tribes and local communities to find that critical balance of multiple-use that protects the ecosystems and promotes healthy communities."
The BLM's national headquarters was in Washington from its inception in 1946 until recently. In 2019, then-Secretary David Bernhardt, Haaland's predecessor and a part of a Republican administration, announced that the agency's new headquarters would be in Grand Junction. It became official in August 2020.
The move was applauded by some at the time as a way for the agency to move operations closer to most of the 247 million acres of land it manages, which is mostly in the West. In fact, about 42% of Utah's land — nearly 23 million acres total — is managed by the federal agency. The Trump administration also argued it would save taxpayers about $50 million, according to Reuters.
But it was also criticized by others as an attempt to dismantle the agency altogether. Ultimately, only 41 of the 328 employees whose jobs were relocated to Colorado actually made the trip, Colorado Public Radio reported in January. The remaining 287 either retired or quit. BLM officials said Friday that only three of the 41 who relocated moved to Grand Junction.
Haaland, a part of the current Democratic administration, announced Friday that the BLM headquarters will once again return to the nation's capital. She said since the agency is "critical" in the U.S. efforts to combat climate change, preserve the outdoor heritage and expand access to public lands, that it is important the agency's leaders have offices closer to where federal decisions are made.
"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," she said Friday.
Haaland added some senior personnel will remain in Grand Junction as the location will serve as the agency's Western headquarters. BLM officials said 95% of the over 7,000 BLM employees work outside of Washington, D.C.
But Cox and Henderson, who are both Republicans, view it differently, which is why they urge Haaland to reconsider the recommendation. They called the decision an example of federal overreach in their letter to Haaland Tuesday.
"Such a move represents the very worst of federal overreach and Beltway bureaucracy — further empowering unelected officials in the nation's capital to exercise authority over huge swaths of the country with minimal accountability to impacted states, tribes, local government and the communities that depend on these landscapes," they wrote. "The administration's decision is an affront to Western states who have worked tirelessly with locally-based BLM personnel to better conserve and actively manage western landscapes in the face of drought, climate change, catastrophic wildfires and other challenges."
They added they believe the plan for a Western headquarters in Colorado as "somewhat of an improvement of a pre-2020 status quo" but not enough given how much of the land is the West.
"The BLM can remain fully engaged in the policy, budget and decision-making levers of Washington, D.C., without removing its leadership far from the lands they oversee," Cox and Henderson wrote.
Meanwhile, no date was provided for when the move will happen. Haaland made the announcement during a meeting with BLM employees Friday.
Colorado Gov. Jared Polis, a Democrat, issued a statement after the announcement to say he was pleased with the decision to keep a headquarters in Grand Junction.
"The BLM has committed to growing this headquarters, and we look forward to many more BLM staff joining those already in Grand Junction which is a natural home for the BLM," his statement read, in part. "There is great value in being physically close to the lands under management and where decisions have impacts on the lives of Coloradans and our environment."