Tipton column: Time to move the Bureau of Land Management west
Over the past few years, one question I have often heard in the 3rd District is: Why are the federal departments that have jurisdiction over most Western lands headquartered in Washington, D.C. rather than in Western states? Particularly, why is the Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Land Management (BLM) headquartered in Washington, when 99 percent of the more than 247.3 million acres of public land that the BLM manages is located in the West?
The BLM manages these vast amounts of land in the West for multiple uses, including grazing, mining, and recreation. The decisions made by the bureau have a long-lasting impact on the people who live in the West and can permanently transform local economies and ecosystems for better or worse depending on the actions taken.
While the BLM has over 10,000 employees, all major decisions are made by just 400 employees based in Washington. By moving the headquarters west, decisions would more likely be made by those who understand the land best, resulting in more effective land management programs and policies. As we have seen in the past, a lack of understanding and awareness can lead to some very flawed policies.
A good example of this is when the BLM under the Obama Administration issued Resource Plan Management Amendments to 98 sage grouse management plans across 10 western states. These amendments proposed by Washington bureaucrats were met with strong opposition from many of the impacted states. The BLM’s one-size-fits-all approach failed to adequately take into account the unique ecological and geographic factors of each region that impact the sage grouse habitat. BLM’s one-size-fits-all policy overlooked the success of state and local plans that had already been implemented, putting their progress at risk as well as the continued recovery of the species.
To ensure the Washington-knows-best mentality doesn’t continue to deeply influence decision-making at BLM, I have teamed up with my friend and colleague, Sen. Cory Gardner, to introduce legislation in the House and Senate to relocate the BLM. Our legislation would direct the Department of the Interior to submit a strategy, including a proposed timeline, for relocating the headquarters of the Bureau of Land Management from Washington, D.C. to one of 12 western states. It mandates that the strategy must save the maximum amount of taxpayer money possible.
Not only will moving the BLM headquarters allow for better and more informed decision-making, it would also bring more jobs to states and communities that are in great need of them. While I would consider it a victory for BLM headquarters to be moved anywhere in the West, I would welcome the chance to bring it to Colorado’s 3rd Congressional District, which serves as a microcosm of almost every western land management issue.
It is also important to note that the BLM is not the only agency that should make the move west. With the impact that agencies like the Bureau of Reclamation and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service have on our public lands and local economies, their move would be beneficial, as well.
Moving BLM headquarters is a common sense proposal that has already garnered support from both sides of the aisle. It has been exciting to see this idea gain so much traction over this past year, and I look forward to working with my colleagues in the House and Senate, as well as with Interior Secretary Zinke to make it a reality.
Congressman Scott R. Tipton represents Colorado’s 3rd District. He serves on the House Committee on Financial Services and the House Committee on Natural Resources; is vice chairman of the Financial Services Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations; executive vice chairman of the Congressional Western Caucus; and co-chairman of the Congressional Small Business Caucus.