When Colorado politicians proudly announced that the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) headquarters would be moving to Grand Junction, the community buzzed with excitement. Sen. Cory Gardner touted the possibility of relocating the big federal agency to the Western Slope for years, promising substantial economic benefits for our town and hundreds of jobs. Mesa County Commissioner Scott McInnis took the hype further, predicting the move "would lead to thousands of jobs" for Grand Junction.
But now only 27 federal employees are slated to transfer here — if the move even goes through. As details emerge, it appears that this whole exercise is actually nothing more than a veiled political attempt to dismantle the BLM and cripple its ability to manage our land.
While Rep. Scott Tipton called the move a "collaboration between all levels of government," nothing could be further from the truth. Last week at a closed door meeting in Washington D.C., a room full of career-level BLM employees demanded transparency from senior leadership about the proposed relocation, and not one person agreed with the decision to move.
The agency still hasn't told staffers who will have to relocate — and whether they'll be one of the two dozen sent to Grand Junction or the hundreds scattered among a handful of existing regional offices. These are people who have worked in alignment with the agency's multi-use mission their whole lives — experts on budgets, policy, science and legislation. Keeping people in limbo over their careers is not collaboration, it's chaos with no moral compass.
We would never stand for that if it were happening in our community. These people have cultivated families around their careers and current communities. Imagine being in the position of working your entire life building up a business, a family ranch, or reaching for your American Dream and having to move across the country if you want to keep your job. It's infuriating.
Proponents of the move like Sen. Gardner said it would allow the agency to be closer to the land it oversees — but that's just gaslighting. Over 90% of BLM employees already work in the West, and a Washington presence is vital to maintain the agency's integrity. And now, earlier this week, he's added to the insult of this misguided management of our public lands by dispensing the following emotion-based hooey in a floor speech on BLM: "The only reason to oppose this move is if you don't care about the people of the western United States ... or maybe you don't think that Colorado is up to the task of being the headquarters of the BLM because apparently you don't trust the people in the West. There's no other reason to oppose this …" Sen. Gardner, is that the best you can do to guide us toward a rational, informed opinion?
This week, the House Committee of Natural Resources will hold a hearing on the proposal and may hear from William Perry Pendley, who has recently been appointed as the acting director of the BLM without congressional approval. Pendley, a lawyer, has been an active proponent of selling public lands to private interests and a history to prove it. He has a book titled "Sagebrush Rebel," a clear reference to the Sagebrush Rebellion, and has been accused of ridiculing Native American cultural and spiritual beliefs. It's questionable that the Senate would even approve Pendley, making his temporary appointment and his involvement in this move even more dangerous. We must act now to ensure the Bundy-minded zealot doesn't permanently take the helm of the BLM.
We can only speculate that politics got in the way of the long-trumpeted move — and the end result is Grand Junction being on the receiving end of a far different outcome than what we were initially sold. Public lands are one of the defining features of Grand Junction — and before we make drastic changes to the agency that manages them, we need to be sure we're doing so in the best interests of the American people and our shared public lands.
Cody M. Perry is co-founder of Rig To Flip, a media company specializing in stories about the Colorado River Basin's land, water and people that inspire. stewardship, awareness and engagement. His passion is telling stories about the West. Cody comes from a ranching family in southern Arizona, has worked as an outdoor educator, ski patroller, writer and community organizer, and lives in Grand Junction.