The U.S. Department of the Interior made it official Tuesday — it plans to move the headquarters of its Bureau of Land Management to Grand Junction — but that means only about 85 extra BLM employees in Colorado.
Grand Junction could gain as few as 27 jobs — the BLM director, deputy director of operations, assistant directors "and a few selected members of their staffs," according to a letter Tuesday from Assistant Interior Secretary Joseph Balash.
The letter — released Tuesday by U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner of Colorado — was addressed to Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, who chairs the Senate Appropriations subcommittee on Interior and the environment.
Spending involved in the move may be subject to review by Congress, and the Democrat-led House is expected to be a tougher sell that the Senate, with its GOP majority.
The move, therefore, might depend on President Donald Trump winning a second term, while Republicans retake the House and maintain its majority in the Senate.
Gardner, a strong advocate for the BLM move, is a prime target for Democrats, a Republican leader who represents a state where Trump lost in 2016 and remains unpopular here.
Of the 85 positions proposed to be relocated to Colorado, 54 would be divided between the state's existing BLM field offices and the its National Operations Center at the federal office complex in Lakewood, which already employs about 500 people.
"Colorado has a diverse number of resource needs, ranging from minerals to recreation, while also serving as a hub for the Bureau’s Geographic Information Systems (GIS) projects and priorities," the BLM letter explained.
"As such, positions from nearly every directorate will be located in the Lakewood offices."
BLM administers 245 million acres, almost all of it is in the western states, including 8.3 million acres in Colorado. The land is used for both recreation as well as commercial uses, such as oil and gas development, mining and livestock grazing.
BLM employs about 9,260 federal workers scattered across field offices mostly in the West.
Besides Colorado about 50 positions each will relocate to field offices in Utah and Nevada, said Sen. Rob Bishop, a Republican who chairs the House Natural Resources Committee.
Salt Lake City and Ogden were viewed as competitors to Grand Junction for the new headquarters.
Conservation Colorado, the state's largest environmental group, praised the move, saying it would help the local economy and put agency leaders closer to the lands they manage, but criticized Gardner.
“It’s no surprise the Bureau of Land Management wants to relocate to Grand Junction. With a fantastic quality of life supported by our stunning public lands, the location is a no-brainer," Erin Riccio, Conservation Colorado's Western Slope field organizer, said in a statement.
She continued, “However, moving the BLM headquarters to Grand Junction won’t actually protect our treasured landscapes as long as the Trump administration’s ‘energy dominance’ agenda is in place."
On Gardner, Riccio took out the political knives, saying he "took credit for this move [and] continues to serve as a cheerleader for President Trump’s anti-conservation agenda. He voted time and time again to cut West Slope residents and Coloradans out of land management decisions, open treasured landscapes to drilling, and remains the only Colorado senator to never sponsor a Colorado wilderness bill."
U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton, a Republican from Cortez, released a statement from Interior Secretary David Bernhardt, who grew up in Rifle.
"A meaningful realignment of our operations is not simply about where functions are performed; rather, it is rooted in how changes will better respond to the needs of the American people,” Bernhardt stated. “Under our proposal, every Western state will gain additional staff resources. This approach will play an invaluable role in serving the American people more efficiently while also advancing the Bureau of Land Management’s multiple-use mission. Shifting critical leadership positions and supporting staff to western states — where an overwhelming majority of federal lands are located — is not only a better management system, it is beneficial to the interest of the American public in these communities, cities, counties and states."
Tipton characterized the decision as a team effort.
"Moving the BLM West originated from a series of meetings and town halls in my district and collaboration between all levels of government led to the final decision," he said in a statement. "I am thankful for the tireless work of everyone involved in making this move a reality. I congratulate Grand Junction and look forward to visiting the new headquarters soon.”