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Decision On Whether To Keep BLM HQ In Colorado Looms For Haaland

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A Senate committee vote Thursday brought Deb Haaland one step closer to becoming the nation's next Interior secretary. If she's confirmed she'll face myriad big decisions, including whether to move the Bureau of Land Management headquarters from Colorado back to Washington, D.C.

As a New Mexico congresswoman, Haaland, a Democrat, was against the move to Grand Junction, Colo., which was made official last August. In late 2019, Haaland said the move would negatively impact tribes, and saw the potential for a "brain drain" at the bureau.

"The disregard for the careers and expertise of the public servants at BLM makes it clear that this reorganization has never been a good faith effort to improve services for our communities," she tweeted.

The BLM wound up losing 287 employees, or 87% of the 328 positions affected by the move West, as Interior Department data released in January revealed.

But during her confirmation hearing last week, Haaland struck a more considered tone. 

"I don't have any intention at this moment of changing things but I'm not there yet," she said. "If I'm confirmed it'll be an important issue to look at."

Most Republicans in the West, as well as top Democrats in Colorado, want the headquarters to stay in Grand Junction. They argue it makes sense to have federal employees closer to the Western public lands they manage. 

But some former employees and environmental advocacy groups say the move was a ploy to gut the BLM and to reduce its power. 

"With no national leadership inside the beltway, the Bureau of Land Management will never be able to compete with and coordinate well with other organizations," former BLM Wyoming director Mary Jo Rugwell said last week during a webinar hosted by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility.

Haaland said during her confirmation hearing that, if confirmed, she'll visit Grand Junction as she weighs whether to keep BLM headquarters there.

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUNR in Nevada, the O'Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West in Montana, KUNC in Colorado, KUNM in New Mexico, with support from affiliate stations across the region. Funding for the Mountain West News Bureau is provided in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Copyright 2021 Boise State Public Radio News. To see more, visit Boise State Public Radio News.

Nate Hegyi
Nate Hegyi is a reporter with the Mountain West News Bureau based at Yellowstone Public Radio. He earned an M.A. in Environmental Science and Natural Resource Journalism in 2016 and interned at NPR’s Morning Edition in 2014. In a prior life, he toured around the country in a band, lived in Texas for a spell, and once tried unsuccessfully to fly fish. You can reach Nate at nate@ypradio.org.
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