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The Bureau of Land Management returns to D.C. What Utah Gov. Spencer Cox has to say about it

Utah’s biggest landlord leaves neighboring Colorado

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The BLM’s Gary Torres and Interior Secretary Deb Haaland hike to the Butler Wash Ruins in Bears Ears National Monument.

Gary Torres, Bureau of Land Management district manager for southeast Utah, left, and Interior Secretary Deb Haaland hike to the Butler Wash Ruins in Bears Ears National Monument in San Juan County on Thursday, April 8, 2021. Utah Gov. Spencer Cox says moving BLM headquarters from Colorado back to Washington, D.C., is the very worst of federal overreach and Beltway bureaucracy.

Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

How much does a distance of 1,929 miles matter, or the fact that to get from Point A to Point B it requires a road trip of 29 hours and 51 minutes?

It turns out it matters quite a bit to Utah Gov. Spencer Cox and Lt. Gov. Deidre Henderson, who sent a scathing letter to Interior Secretary Deb Haaland on Tuesday railing on the Biden administration’s decision to relocate the Bureau of Land Management’s national headquarters from Grand Junction, Colorado, back to Washington, D.C.

That distance and that road trip are the gap that exists between the two cities.

“We are profoundly disappointed with the administration’s decision to move BLM’s headquarters back to Washington, D.C., thousands of miles away from the BLM lands and the people who bear the brunt of the agency’s decisions,” the letter said. “Such a move represents the very worst of federal overreach and Beltway bureaucracy — further empowering unelected officials in the nation’s capital to exercise authority over huge swaths of the country with minimal accountability to impacted states, tribes, local government, and the communities that depend on these landscapes.”

The letter went on to say it makes little sense for the BLM national headquarters to be in Washington, D.C., because the vast majority of the land it manages — 247 million acres — is located in the West.

Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, also weighed in, calling the Biden administration’s decision a mistake.

“Utah’s public lands are best managed by the communities closest to them, and that is not Washington, D.C. It is a mistake to uproot the BLM headquarters from the West, where the decision makers were closer to the nearly 250 million acres they manage,” he said in a statement. “Having the key decision maker based in the West made it easier for local elected officials, tribes, ranchers, and the general public — especially those who live and depend on the land — to meet with those who oversee BLM’s multiple use mission.” 

Both Cox and Henderson urged the Biden administration to immediately reverse its decision to upend an administrative move made during President Donald Trump’s time in office.

The 2019 decision to relocate BLM headquarters to a city in the West was widely applauded by political leaders from Utah and elsewhere in the West as a way to improve their relationship with the federal agency and to get federal decision makers closer to the ground on which they make critical decisions.

Alternatively, it was lambasted by environmental activists as a huge waste of money and an exercise that led to the departure of hundreds of disgruntled employees who did not want to uproot their lives.

In the letter from Cox and Henderson, the relocation was praised as critical and a huge step toward improving the dialogue when it comes to management of public land by the BLM.

“It is essential that the federal officials who hold so much decision making power over our lands can experience our landscapes firsthand, see the challenges we face, and interact with the people whose lives and livelihoods are directly impacted by their decisions,” it read. “Not surprisingly, BLM management has drastically improved since its national headquarters were moved to Grand Junction, Colorado, in 2020, which placed agency leadership in the heart of the BLM’s vast western holdings and the communities that depend on the wise use of these public lands.”

Groups such as the Center for Western Priorities praised the return of the headquarters to Washington and said it is vital the agency have a seat at the table in the nation’s capital.

Cox and Henderson said the Biden decision was an insult.

“The administration’s decision is an affront to western states who have worked tirelessly with locally based BLM personnel to better conserve and actively manage western landscapes in the face of drought, climate change, catastrophic wildfires, and other challenges.”