Interior Secretary Deb Haaland Is Coming To Grand Junction. Get Ready To Talk About The BLM Headquarters Move

Hart Van Denburg/CPR News
The Bureau of Land Management’s Grand Junction office is housed in this office building on Horizon Drive. Wednesday, Sept. 16, 2020.

Update: The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee deadlocked in a 10-10 vote on Stone-Manning's nomination July 22. Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said he plans to advance it to the full Senate.

Interior Secretary Deb Haaland will visit Grand Junction on Friday, as the department contemplates whether the Bureau of Land Management headquarters will remain in the Western Slope city.

The announcement was made by Colorado Sens. John Hickenlooper and Michael Bennet, who had invited Haaland to visit the city and hear from the community.  

“With climate change fueling severe drought and catastrophic wildfires, restoring a strong public lands agency and fixing the previous administration's mistakes is a top priority,” said Hickenlooper and Bennet in a joint statement. “We’re happy to host Secretary Haaland and look forward to productive conversations with Grand Junction community leaders on the future of the BLM headquarters.”

Hickenlooper, who sits on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, got Haaland to promise to visit during her confirmation hearing. 

Many have criticized the way the Trump administration handled the BLM move, which resulted in hundreds of career staffers leaving the public lands agency rather than move out West. In January, the Interior Department revealed that of the more than 300 positions relocated to western offices, only 41 people moved with their jobs.

When she served in the House, Haaland was critical of the headquarters move, saying it was a way to dismantle the agency and that she had heard from several tribes unhappy with the decision. She will be meeting employees at the BLM’s office during her visit.

Since taking over the department, Haaland has said Interior is looking into the move and talking with employees. She said she wanted to avoid doing anything that might further damage morale or push more people to leave the agency. 

Meanwhile, the senators have called on the Biden administration to establish a fully-fledged headquarters in the state. 

“We continue to support a full BLM headquarters in Grand Junction. We believe that such an effort must be more than symbolic and must include the staff and resources to improve management and protect our public land,” the two wrote to Biden soon after he took office.

A number of Colorado leaders from Democrats, like Gov. Jared Polis and Rep. Joe Neguse, to Republican Rep. Lauren Boebert, who represents Grand Junction, have also called on the administration to keep the BLM HQ in its new home.

"I hope she will see the great work being done and that she will hear with an open mind from the ranchers, county commissioners, sheriffs, farmers, hunters, hikers, off-roaders, and other outdoor recreation enthusiasts who have benefited from the agency’s move West," said Boebert in a statement. She had also invited Haaland to visit and will meet with her in Grand Junction.

According to the Interior Department, Haaland will spend three days in the state, starting in Denver on Thursday and wrapping up in Ridgway in Ouray County on Saturday. She plans to meet with elected federal, state, local and tribal leaders to discuss drought and wildfire conditions, the outdoor recreation economy, and infrastructure

That’s in line with other Colorado issues the Senators want to discuss, including drought and wildfire mitigation and the CORE Act, with the local community. 

Neguse is the House sponsor of the CORE Act. He'll be with the group for part of the Western Slope visit, including the meeting at the BLM. Neguse is friends with Haaland and worked with her on the Natural Resources Committee, taking over the subcommittee she chaired last Congress. 

“I’m looking forward to visiting with her,” Neguse said.