01.19.20

The BLM works for the West

Coloradans from across the political spectrum cheered together last summer when the U.S. Department of the Interior announced it would reorganize the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) structure to better serve Western states and relocate its headquarters to Grand Junction. Since that historic day for Colorado’s public lands, this common-sense idea has come under attack from people in our nation’s capital who are terrified at the thought of losing influence and sway with a government agency. Some have gone so far as to claim that a Grand Junction-based headquarters would “dismantle” the BLM and be “disastrous” for land management.

As a fifth-generation Coloradan, I believe in Colorado and Grand Junction and I believe we are up to the task of being home to the BLM Headquarters. The great outdoors are part of who we are as Coloradans. Appreciating and preserving our state’s natural wonder is ingrained in our culture and heritage. We champion groundbreaking research into new alternative energy methods and technology to improve the environment, and we take immense pride that people from all over the world come to Colorado to enjoy our state’s beauty.

Of course, there are some who lose sight of this and want to drag the management of our public lands into the ugliest of politics. But I like to think that in Colorado, politics end at the park’s edge. Our elected leaders have a long history of working together to enhance the lands we all cherish. Earlier this year, Colorado members of Congress on both sides of the aisle teamed up to pass the largest public lands package in a decade and secured permanent reauthorization for the Land and Water Conservation Fund.

The implementation of that lands package is in the very capable hands of the Secretary of the Interior, David Bernhardt. David is a Colorado native who grew up in Rifle, on the Western Slope, and is the seventh secretary of the Interior from the Centennial State. Coloradan Gale Norton was confirmed as secretary of the Interior unanimously by a voice vote in the Senate during the Bush administration, as was Coloradan Ken Salazar a few years later during the Obama administration. Elected leaders in Washington have often looked to Colorado to provide leadership on land management. This is nothing new.

In the same spirit, it is common sense that the people tasked to preserve and manage our public lands should be here, not 2,000 miles and two time zones away. Gov. Polis, who supported moving the BLM to Colorado as a congressman and continues to as our state’s chief executive, believes Grand Junction is the perfect location to house the government’s largest land management agency. Some are baffled by the idea that employees of the BLM would want to live in the West, but the Department of the Interior recently announced nearly two-thirds of the staff asked to relocate willingly accepted offers. Congress also gave its approval to move forward as well, with continued funding for relocation costs.

A headquarters on the Western Slope will improve the relationships between BLM leadership and state and local officials. Having the agency next door will increase accessibility, accountability, and transparency for everyone impacted by the BLM’s decisions. Far away from the marble halls of Washington and close to the incredible lands Colorado and other Western states are blessed with, the leaders of the BLM will have a personal stake in their work, which will result in better decisions and more careful consideration before writing rules that will affect their neighbors’ lives.

There are plenty of deep pockets and special interests that want to keep the decision makers right where they are. But it takes a great deal of nerve to suggest that the only place someone can oversee the public lands in our backyards is from 2,000 miles away in our nation’s capital. We do not disparage the integrity and ability of federal agencies that reside outside of the beltway, such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, Georgia or the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) offices across Colorado.

That’s because the dedicated public servants of these federal agencies don’t work for Washington, they work for the American people. And when it comes to managing our state’s treasured lands, it’s time for a little less D.C. influence and a little more Colorado common sense.

 

U.S. Senator Cory Gardner (R-CO)

The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel