A view of the Book Cliffs near Grand Junction, an area administered by the Interior Department's Bureau of Land Management.

A view of the Book Cliffs near Grand Junction, an area administered by the Interior Department's Bureau of Land Management.

WASHINGTON • A western Colorado economic leader tried to convince a congressional committee Tuesday that moving the Bureau of Land Management headquarters to Grand Junction would help resolve an “urban rural divide” over public land policies.

“The idea that (Bureau of Land Management) leadership shouldn’t be influenced by the communities that live, work and play on our public lands is misguided,” said Robin Brown, executive director of the Grand Junction Economic Partnership.

She spoke during a hearing of the House Natural Resources Committee, which includes four members from Colorado. All of them — two Republicans, two Democrats — support a Trump administration plan announced in July to move the Bureau of Land Management’s headquarters from Washington to Grand Junction.

However, they face stiff opposition from some BLM staff members and conservationists. They say the move would weaken the agency.

The BLM manages nearly 388,000 square miles of federal land, more than any other agency.

In Colorado, 35.9% of the land is publicly owned, or nearly 24 million acres.

Brown referred to the more than 11,000 registered lobbyists in Washington that spent an estimated $3.46 billion last year to influence Congress as an example of how the federal government is sometimes out of touch with residents of western Colorado.

“So I don’t quite see why it’s OK to be influenced by more lobbyists than most of these communities have in total population with more money than all of our annual budgets combined, but not OK to be influenced by the communities who know, love, and protect our public lands best because they live, work, and play on those lands every single day — sometimes over multiple generations,” Brown said.

She also described advantages of Grand Junction, such as a lower cost of living compared with Washington and access to research and educational institutions.

“In other words, every single thing that the BLM does can be researched, studied and put into practice in Mesa County,” Brown said.

Her enthusiasm for a BLM move to Grand Junction was not shared by the 30 retired BLM administrators who sent a letter last week to U.S. Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt asking him to reconsider the relocation.

“You’re setting up the BLM for failure,” the letter states.

The BLM retirees and their supporters say more than 95% of the agency’s roughly 10,000 employees are dispersed in field offices, mostly in Western states. They issue permits for mining as well as oil and gas drilling. They also enforce environmental regulations and manage recreational facilities.

Moving the more than 300 top administrators to Grand Junction would stick taxpayers with a huge travel budget when they must return to Washington to consult on policy decisions, the letter from the BLM’s retirees said.

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