Rep. Lauren Boebert, left, speaks with Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland during Haaland’s visit to Grand Junction on July 23, 2021. (Sharon Sullivan for Colorado Newsline)
During her first official visit to Grand Junction, the nation’s first Native American secretary of the interior, Deb Haaland, wouldn’t say whether the Bureau of Land Management headquarters will remain in the city or return to Washington, D.C.
“It’s an open question, but needs to be known soon,” she said.
Haaland was joined on Friday by Gov. Jared Polis, Sens. Michael Bennet and John Hickenlooper, and Reps. Joe Neguse and Lauren Boebert, who represents the district that encompasses Grand Junction. The Colorado delegation hopes to persuade Haaland to keep the BLM headquarters in Grand Junction, where, in a controversial move, the Trump administration relocated the federal agency from Washington, D.C., in 2019.
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The group arrived on a blue-sky-and-cloudy day, with the Book Cliffs Mountains in the distance clear of the haze that’s hung over the Grand Valley much of the summer due to wildfires raging in several western states. Haaland and the Colorado delegation toured the Grand Junction Air Center — a multi-purpose wildland fire management and operation center — where they discussed wildfire mitigation and a $6.1 million investment to eliminate safety hazards by replacing multiple structurally deficient buildings with a single cost-effective building.
“We owe the brave women and men on the frontlines the right tools and training they need to protect our communities and our lands from the increasing threat of fire,” Haaland said. “By making smart investments in critical infrastructure as well as climate resilience, we will strengthen our wildland fire preparedness and response across the West.”
So far this year in the western U.S., 35,000 wildfires have burned more than 2.5 million acres of land. Following the tour, Haaland and the Colorado delegation spoke to news reporters about wildfire mitigation and the looming question of whether the BLM headquarters will remain in Grand Junction — or be moved back to Washington, D.C.
Bennet, a Democrat, mentioned the importance of the interior secretary “seeing what we know, first-hand, how it is a huge benefit to the American people if their government can be closer to them.”
Boebert, a Republican, agreed with her Democratic colleagues that BLM headquarters should remain in Grand Junction.
“It would be a tremendous cost to move back to D.C.,” she said. “We want to make sure the lands we live on, recreate on, are represented well.”
Haaland said she will consider the impact on BLM employees when making her decision whether to keep the headquarters on the Western Slope. Employees were significantly impacted the way the move was implemented, she said. And institutional knowledge was lost after nearly 300 BLM employees left their jobs rather than leave their homes in Washington to come to Colorado.
It would be a tremendous cost to move back to D.C. ... We want to make sure the lands we live on, recreate on, are represented well.
– Rep. Lauren Boebert, on the fate of BLM headquarters
Only 41 employees moved west with their jobs to facilities that included the headquarters in Grand Junction.
“Scores of vacancies remain to be filled,” she said.
She said she wants to put the uncertainty to rest — for the sake of employees, as well as Grand Junction. On Saturday, she plans to meet with tribal members to discuss the issue.
“Everybody’s voices are important to us,” Haaland said.
Haaland acknowledged “being connected to the West is a good thing” but added there are many facets to the BLM.
Like others, Polis said it makes sense to have a central location with the vast majority of BLM-overseen lands located in the Rocky Mountain West.
“I want to make the best decision for everyone,” Haaland said.
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