BLM headquarters could move to Nevada under new bill
In this April 20, 2013 file photo, male greater sage grouse perform mating rituals for a female grouse, not pictured, on a lake outside Walden, Colo. More than 50,000 square miles of Bureau of Land Management land in the West has been identified as priority habitat for the birds. Bureau of Land Management oversees some of the nation’s most prized natural resources: vast expanses of public lands rich in oil, gas, coal, grazing for livestock, habitat for wildlife, hunting ranges, fishing streams and hiking trails.
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But more than 99 percent of that land is in 12 Western states, hundreds of miles from the nation’s capital. Some Western politicians both Republicans and Democrats are asking why the bureau’s headquarters isn’t in the West as well. Cory Gardner, who introduced a bill to move the headquarters to any of those dozen states: Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, Washington or Wyoming. The Bureau of Land Management manages a combined 385,000 square miles (997,000 square kilometers) in those states.
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Colorado Republican Rep. Scott Tipton introduced a similar measure in the House, and three Democrats signed up as co sponsors: Reps. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona,
Jared Polis of Colorado and Ed Perlmutter of Colorado.
Some Westerners have long argued federal land managers should be closer to the land they oversee, saying Washington doesn’t understand the region. Now they have a powerful ally in Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, a Montanan who is leading President Donald Trump’s charge to roll back environmental regulations and encourage energy development on public land. national parks starting soon. The National Park Service has introduced the idea of a peak season entrance fee increase at 17 of the country most popular attractions.
Zinkesaidin September he wants to move much of the Interior Department’s decision making to the West, including the Bureau of Land Management, which is part of the agency.
The Washington Postreportedlast month Zinke’s plan includes dividing his department’s regions along river systems and other natural features instead of state borders, and using them to restructure oversight.
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A big part of the bureau’s job is to lease drilling, mining and grazing rights on public land to private companies and individuals. That puts it at the center of a heated national debate over how those lands should be managed, and by whom.
Some recent disputes:
Much of Bears Ears National Monument in Utah, created by President Barack Obama and greatly reduced by Trump, is on Bureau of Land Management land.
Rancher Cliven Bundy’s long battle against federal control of public land, which culminated in a 2014 armed standoff in Nevada, began on bureau acreage.
More than 50,000 square miles (123,000 square kilometers) of Bureau of Land Management land in the West is at the heart of a debate among conservationists, ranchers and energy companies over how much protection to give the shrinking population of the greater sage grouse, a ground dwelling bird.
In this April 11, 2015, file photo, rancher Cliven Bundy speaks at an event in Bunkerville, Nev. Bureau of Land Management acreage in Nevada. (Photo: John Locher, AP file)
The bureau manages more public land than any other federal agency, ranging from about 1 square mile (3 square kilometers) in Virginia to nearly 113,000 square miles (293,000 square kilometers) in Alaska. That doesn’t include national parks or national forests, which are managed by other agencies.
It has about 9,000 employees, with fewer than 400 in Washington. The rest are scattered among 140 state, district or field offices.
“The larger issue is that states and counties that are predominated by public lands are deeply affected by decisions made by BLM,” said Kathleen Sgamma, president of the Western Energy Alliance in Denver,
which represents the oil and gas industry. “So it makes sense (for the headquarters) to be in a state where there are a high percentage of public lands.”