Senator: Biggest US land agency moving to Colorado

Colorado Republican Sen. Cory Gardner says the Trump administration is moving the headquarters of the federal government's largest land agency to Colorado

DENVER -- The headquarters of the U.S. government's largest land agency will move from the nation's capital to western Colorado, a Republican senator said Monday, a high-profile component of the Trump administration's plan to reorganize management of the nation's natural resources.

Colorado Sen. Cory Gardner said in a statement that the headquarters of the Bureau of Land Management would move to Grand Junction, a city of about 63,000 people 250 miles (400 kilometers) west of Denver. A bureau spokeswoman who declined to give her name said she couldn't confirm or deny the move.

Gardner did not say when the headquarters would relocate or provide any other details. Annalyse Keller, his spokeswoman, didn't immediately return a phone call seeking more information.

"The problem with Washington is too many policy makers are far removed from the people they are there to serve," Gardner said in a news release. "This is a victory for local communities, advocates for public lands and proponents for a more responsible and accountable federal government."

The bureau, part of the Interior Department, oversees nearly 388,000 square miles (1 billion square kilometers) of public land, and 99% is in 12 Western states including Colorado. The lands are rich in oil, gas, coal and grazing for livestock, as well as habitat for wildlife, hunting ranges, fishing streams and hiking trails.

Gardner and other Western politicians have long argued the agency headquarters should be closer to the land it manages.

The bureau is in the vanguard of President Donald Trump's campaign to step up fossil fuel production on public land, and it has often been in the crosshairs of Democrats and conservationists who say the administration is more interested in mining and drilling than in protecting the environment.

Rep. Raul M. Grijalva, D-Arizona, chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, attacked the headquarters move and noted that Grand Junction is not far from Interior Secretary David Bernhardt's hometown of Rifle, Colorado.

"Putting BLM headquarters down the road from Secretary Bernhardt's hometown just makes it easier for special interests to walk in the door demanding favors without congressional oversight or accountability," Grijalva said. "The BLM officials based in Washington are here to work directly with Congress and their federal colleagues, and that function is going to take a permanent hit if this move goes forward."

About 400 of the bureau's 9,000 employees are in Washington. The rest are scattered among 140 state, district or field offices.

Grijalva said he suspects the bureau's true motive is to force out some employees who would not be willing to move. The Interior Department has previously denied that was a reason.

Key details of the move were unknown, including how much it would cost, how many employees would remain in Washington and, most importantly, whether the move would have a significant impact on land-management decisions or would be more a symbol of the administration's determination to decentralize the bureau.

Colorado Gov. Jared Polis, a Democrat, welcomed the change but included a reference to his party's disputes with Trump over protecting the environment and recreational access on public lands.

"Hard to think of a better place to house the department responsible for overseeing our beloved public lands," he said in a written statement.

Interior Department officials have said they also considered Denver; Salt Lake City; Albuquerque, New Mexico; and Boise, Idaho, for the new headquarters.

Former Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke initiated the plan to reorganize his department. Zinke stepped down in January amid ethics allegations, and Bernhardt has continued the planning but with less fanfare.