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Bureau of Land Management’s relocation plans becoming clear amid Republican objections

The Forest Service road leading to Dolores Canyon Overlook, on public lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management, northwest of Cortez near Dove Creek. (Hart Van Denburg/CPR News)

The Bureau of Land Management’s plans for moving back to Washington, D.C., are taking shape, and Western Republicans aren’t happy.

After higher-level senior positions have moved to Washington, the BLM said it will keep the short-lived headquarters in Grand Junction as a Western anchor for its operations, led by staff members who oversee Conservation Lands and community partnerships.

“We anticipate posting additional positions soon to reflect that office’s leadership role in BLM’s outdoor recreation, conservation, clean energy and scientific missions, as well as outreach and tribal consultation,” director Tracy Stone Manning said in an email to staff members.

Colorado Sen. John Hickenlooper, a Democrat, said his office called the BLM as soon as the news broke, and that he remains hopeful more jobs will be assigned to the Grand Junction office.

“That indicates a direction for the office. Which I think is good,” he said. “I think that when we talked to them a couple months ago, we saw a larger horizon. I think that the best is yet to come. Let’s put it that way.”

Interior Secretary Deb Haaland announced in September that she planned to undo President Donald Trump’s decision to move hundreds of BLM jobs to Western Colorado and other regional offices.

Critics accused the previous administration of using the move to weaken the agency and drive out career staff members. And indeed, the department revealed only 41 employees chose to follow their jobs, with hundreds leaving instead.

However, Republican representatives from Western states are equally unhappy with the decision to return the BLM’s power center to Washington.

“Unfortunately, the reprogramming effort now being pursued by your department lacks transparency, is fundamentally flawed and should be abandoned,” said a letter organized by Rep. Lauren Boebert, who serves as a vice chairwoman of the Western Congressional Caucus.

Rep. Doug Lamborn and 18 other Republicans also signed on.

The letter claims the department’s relocation plans show it is backtracking on its public pledge to keep a robust presence in Grand Junction:

“BLM has made clear that this new reprogramming proposal will relocate senior staff further away from the lands they are responsible for managing and cause significant harm to local communities by moving nearly 50 good-paying jobs currently stationed in Utah, Arizona, Colorado, Nevada and New Mexico to Washington, D.C.”

Boebert says returning the BLM to D.C. is a bad deal for taxpayers. In the letter, she noted the federal government just spent $20 million moving all of these positions to the West. She says the BLM has not been transparent about the total cost of this new move.

This week, Boebert claimed she had secured assurances from the top Republicans on the House Appropriations Committee that they would try to block any funding for the move. Democrats tried a similar tactic for the original relocation to the West. At that time, the Interior Department said it could shift existing money around to cover the cost.

CPR’s Caitlyn Kim contributed to this report. For more stories from Colorado Public Radio, visit cpr.org.