In Grand Junction Visit, Deb Haaland Signals BLM HQ Decision Could Come Soon — But Not What It Will Be

Stina Seig/CPR News
Gov. Jared Polis and Sen. John Hickenlooper with Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland in Grand Junction on Friday, July 23, 2021.

Updated Sunday 5:32 p.m.

As Interior Secretary Deb Haaland spoke to a small group of reporters under a bright blue Grand Junction sky Friday, she seemed to suggest that a decision could come soon about whether the city will get to keep the Bureau of Land Management’s national headquarters.

She did not, however, give much of a hint about which way the decision would go.

Flanked by many of Colorado’s top politicians, all of whom want the BLM to stay, Haaland stressed how hard the 2019 decision to relocate the BLM’s top office was on employees. Of the more than 300 positions that were moved out of Washington, D.C., the vast majority of the people in them chose to retire or quit.

Haaland described current employees as “struggling” with their work, with many vacancies still remaining.

“There's no way to sugarcoat the trauma and disruption that continues to affect the team at Interior,” Haaland said. “And it's why my first priority is to avoid doing any more harm to the BLM’s dedicated employees.”

Part of what they need, she explained, is clarity, without having to worry that things at the agency could keep changing drastically with future administrations. 

She added that she remains “open to the idea that Grand Junction can and will play a significant role in BLM’s future,” and that the question of what that actually looks like must be answered soon.

Stina Seig/CPR News
Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland speaks to reporters in Grand Junction on Friday, July 23, 2021, as Sen. Michael Bennet, Rep. Lauren Boebert (behind Haaland), Rep. Joe Negeuse, Gov. Jared Polis and Sen. John Hickenlooper look on.

Gov. Jared Polis underscored the importance of timeliness in making a decision, especially with so many vacant positions in the agency still needing to be filled.

“I think a lot of people are hesitant to apply for jobs because they don't want to have to move to D.C. or somewhere else a year or two later,” he said.  

Polis said he believed that many potential employees would be “thrilled” to help grow out the headquarters in Grand Junction, once they knew the move was permanent. 

U.S. Rep. Lauren Boebert, the area’s congresswoman and the sole Republican at the press conference, made a money argument for keeping the BLM in Grand Junction, noting the cost would be “tremendous” to move the headquarters back to D.C. She also said that she’s spoken with many BLM employees who want to stay in Grand Junction. 

“We are going to work hard to make sure their voice is heard in that and make sure that the lands that we all recreate on and live on and interact with on a daily basis are represented well,” Boebert said. “And that starts with having the Bureau here so we can effectively represent our Western lands.”

Stina Sieg/CPR News
Rep. Lauren Boebert speaks with reporters during a press conference with Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland in Grand Junction on Friday, July 23, 2021. Behind her are Sen. Michael Bennet and Rep. Joe Negeuse.

Haaland’s multi-day trip through Colorado started Thursday in Denver, with a focus on water policy, and will wrap up in Ridgway Saturday, where she will talk about outdoor recreation. She also plans to meet with tribal leaders for their perspective on the BLM. 

Her hope, she explained, is to take everything she’s heard, everything she’s learned on the trip, “and put it all together and just sit down and make the best decisions.” 

And while nearly every question Haaland received was about the future of the BLM, the original intent of the press conference was to discuss the threat of wildfires and climate change across the West.

The event even took place at the Grand Junction Air Center, a firefighting hub, which Haaland announced will receive $6.1 million for repairs through the Great American Outdoors Act.

Haaland spoke about keeping firefighters safe by giving them the needed tools and training to deal with a rapidly warming world.

“As we move forward, we must confront the reality that a changing climate is fueling these fire disasters,” she said, adding that Biden’s budget proposal includes more than $1 billion to support wildland firefighting efforts.

Editor's note: This story was updated because of incorrect information. The Grand Junction Air Center will receive $6.1 million for repairs through the Great American Outdoors Act.