Dozens of former BLM officials denounce moving headquarters out of D.C.

‘You’re setting up the BLM for failure.’

 

Two Bureau of Land Management rangers walk in the Dominguez-Escalante National Conservation Area, located 20 miles outside of Grand Junction, Colorado. Grand Junction was selected as the new headquarters for the BLM.

This story was originally published by Colorado Public Radio and is republished with permission.

As Grand Junction gets ready to welcome the headquarters of the Bureau of Land Management, dozens of former BLM top officials are speaking out against the move, saying it will deeply wound the agency’s effectiveness. 

“We would like people to take a harder look at this, including Congress,” said Elaine Zielinski, former BLM director in Arizona and Oregon. 

Zielinksi, who started her BLM career in Colorado in 1977, is one of 30 retired BLM senior leaders — mostly from the West — who have signed a letter to Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt, urging him to reconsider moving BLM’s headquarters out of Washington, D.C. 

This fall, 27 top officials are slated to move to Grand Junction, while hundreds of others will be shifted from the nation’s capital to various posts across the West. Only a few BLM employees will remain in Washington.

Zielinksi thinks this “dismantling” of the agency’s headquarters in unnecessary, as 97% of BLM employees are already based outside of Washington. She believes the 3% in the Capital are vital to explain issues to key decision makers and give the agency a consistent presence.

Without them, “You’re setting up the BLM  for failure,” she said. 

The letter attacks the Interior Department’s explanations for the move point by point, including cost savings (which the signees say there’s no proof of) and deepening the agency’s understanding of the West (which the signees say is not needed, as there are already thousands of employees working in the region). 

But proponents of the move say these fears are overblown. Colorado’s Republican Sen. Cory Gardner, who has been fighting for the new headquarters for years, said it is important to get the agency’s top brass closer to the people and the land they oversee. 

“We will have better, more responsive decision makings and a stronger public land protection because of this move,” said Gardner, who added that some of the people against this change might have been campaigning for the BLM to come to their own state. 

He also brushed aside concerns that that moving BLM employees out of Washington could lead to “brain drain,” with some staff choosing to quit instead of moving

“I think that if you’re a public land employee, and you don’t want to live and work in the public lands that you manage and oversee, then maybe you should find a different way to work,” Gardner said.

But veteran BLM employees like Zielinksi stress that losing most of that small core of Washington-based employees could harm the inner workings of the agency, and could lead to decisions being made in D.C. without the agency’s input.  

Zielinksi worries about a hidden agenda behind the move, and the fate of the agency.

She said she can’t help but think that the goal is to make the agency so dysfunctional “that the BLM will really be destroyed.”

Stina Sieg is Colorado Public Radio’s Western Slope reporter. Email High Country News at [email protected] or submit a letter to the editor

High Country News Classifieds
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    The Public Lands Foundation, a non-profit organization supporting the multiple-use management of public lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management, seeks an experienced leader...
  • CLIMATE JUSTICE FELLOW
    High Country News, an award-winning magazine covering the communities and environment of the Western United States, seeks applicants for a climate justice fellowship. The fellowship...
  • YELLOWSTONE TREASURES: THE TRAVELER'S COMPANION TO THE NATIONAL PARK
    Dreaming of a trip to Yellowstone Park? This book makes you the tour guide for your group! Janet Chapple shares plenty of history anecdotes and...
  • OLIVERBRANCH CONSULTING
    Non-Profit Management Professional specializing in Transitional Leadership, Strategic Collaborations, Communications and Grant Management/Writing.
  • SAGE GROUSE CCAA COORDINATOR
    The Powder Basin Watershed Council, headquartered in Baker City, Oregon, seeks a full-time Sage Grouse CCAA Coordinator. This position is part of a collaborative effort...
  • MARKETING COMMUNICATIONS MANAGER
    High Country News, an award-winning media organization covering the communities and environment of the Western United States, seeks a Marketing Communications Manager to join our...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR - OKANOGAN LAND TRUST
    Executive Director, Okanogan Land Trust Position Announcement Do you enjoy rural living, wild places, family farms, challenging politics, and big conservation opportunities? Do you have...
  • GREAT VIEWS, SMALL FOOTPRINT
    Close to town but with a secluded feel, this eco-friendly home includes solar panels, a graywater reuse system, tankless hot water, solar tubes, and rainwater...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Powder River Basin Resource Council, a progressive non-profit conservation organization based in Sheridan, Wyoming, seeks an Executive Director, preferably with grassroots organizing experience, excellent communication...
  • COMMUNITY ORGANIZER- NORTHERN PLAINS RESOURCE COUNCIL
    Organize with Northern Plains Resource Council to protect Montana's water quality, family farms and ranches, & unique quality of life. Starts $35.5k. Apply now- northernplains.org/careers
  • BEAUTIFUL, AUTHENTIC LIVE YULE LOG CENTERPIECE
    - beautiful 12" yule log made from holly wood, live fragrant firs, rich green and white holly, pinecones and red berries. $78 includes shipping. Our...
  • CRAZY HORSE MEMORIAL DIRECTOR OF PROGRAMS FOR THE INDIAN UNIVERSITY OF NORTH AMERICA
    Crazy Horse Memorial, in the Black Hills of South Dakota, is currently accepting applications and nominations for the Director of Programs for The Indian University...
  • CRAZY HORSE MEMORIAL® MANAGER OF RESIDENCE LIFE FOR THE INDIAN UNIVERSITY OF NORTH AMERICA®
    Crazy Horse Memorial is currently accepting applications for the Manager of Residence Life for The Indian University of North America. This position is responsible for...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Are you an art lover who dreams of living in the mountains? Is fundraising second nature to you? Do you have experience managing creative people?...
  • EDITOR-IN-CHIEF
    High Country News, an award-winning media organization covering the communities and environment of the Western United States, seeks an Editor-In-Chief to join our senior team...
  • LENDER OWNED FIX & FLIP
    2 houses on 37+ acres. Gated subdivision, Penrose Colorado. $400k. Possible lender financing. Bob Kunkler Brokers Welcome.
  • HISTORIC LODGE AND RESTAURANT - FULLY EQUIPPED
    Built in 1901, The Crazy Mountain Inn has 11 guest rooms in a town-center building on 7 city lots (.58 acres). The inn and restaurant...
  • POLLINATOR OASIS
    Seeking an experienced, hardworking partner to help restore a desert watershed/wetland while also creating a pollinator oasis at the mouth of an upland canyon. Compensation:...
  • ELLIE SAYS IT'S SAFE! A GUIDE DOG'S JOURNEY THROUGH LIFE
    by Don Hagedorn. A story of how lives of the visually impaired are improved through the love and courage of guide dogs. Available on Amazon.
  • COMING TO TUCSON?
    Popular vacation house, furnished, 2 bed/1 bath, yard, dog-friendly. Lee at [email protected] or 520-791-9246.