The troubling saga of moving the Bureau of Land Management headquarters out West carries on, as early this month career staff in Washington D.C. were given a 30-day notice to pack their bags or find a new job — just in time to add unwanted stress during the holiday season.
I have a hard time believing a recent statement by William Perry Pendley, acting director of the BLM, saying that if it were up to him he'd be moving to Grand Junction alongside senior staff.
Considering the amount of frustration, anger, and confusion that has developed under his leadership, I can't imagine why anyone would enthusiastically join a hostile and demoralized work environment. After months of uncertainty, those sentiments have only grown more toxic. Days before Thanksgiving BLM administrators launched a new website about the upcoming relocation that informed staffers of yet another unexpected outcome: Expect a drop in salary. Acting director Pendley should be made to move and take responsibility for the mess he's made.
Colorado Sen. Cory Gardner is the chief architect who planned the agency's relocation, emphasizing that the move will bring decision makers closer to the lands they manage. That statement doesn't hold water. Ninety-seven percent of BLM staff already live and work on Western lands, and the 300 employees in D.C. have nothing to do with local management planning. Those matters fall on state headquarters and local field offices where citizens provide input to resource specialists regarding our public lands.
The small number of senior BLM staff in D.C. are policy experts responsible for acting upon executive rules, allocating funds to states and specific projects, creating behemoth budgets, and coordinating with other agencies such as the Forest Service. The BLM's need to have a presence in D.C. is in no way unique; the U.S. Department of Education or the Department of Energy also need to be present for budget sessions and frequent meetings for programs across the country. By Gardner's reasoning, he could just as easily argue that D.C. staff with the Department of Energy should be moved to Texas or Wyoming to be closer to the industry and high volumes of energy produced there.
However, Congress hasn't authorized the BLM move, let alone any funding for it. The Department of Interior refuses to cooperate or produce any documentation justifying the action and how it will affect its employees, many of whom have already moved on. That loss of institutional knowledge is irreplaceable and morally corrupt. How can Sen. Gardner rationalize the outrageous cost of hiring replacement employees, training them or managing the role if it's not filled? How is that efficient? How will this improve communication? Simply put, it's all political gaslighting — a baseless move with a clandestine purpose of commodifying the American West.
We all agree that improving channels of communication to help craft management practices is an ever-present objective, but agency leaders sharing a new office space with Chevron isn't the way to shape policy that represents the agency's mission. The BLM oversees the commons — the wild spaces that all Americans have the right to occupy. Sustaining "the health, diversity and productivity of the public lands for the use and enjoyment of present and future generations" is no small feat. The BLM, in effect, is the barrier preventing Garret Hardin's Tragedy of the Commons from playing out on shared landscapes, and ensuring policies favoring relatively unregulated capitalism don't destroy the world for our children.
Sporadically moving the BLM's headquarters out of Washington is analogous to removing the gas tank from a car, then rolling it into the parking lot full of oil executives who plan to fix it and then plaster their logo on the side. Sen. Gardner, Secretary Bernhardt and others are undermining public process, undermining logic, and promoting shoddy, inhospitable moral values for elite companies and individuals who believe they are entitled to our 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.