Public lands issues are a long-running sore point in the West, with conservationists generally feeling that federal control leads to better management and environmental protection and state-level Republicans, as well as oil and gas and cattle interests, thinking we could be making more use of these lands for economic purposes.
Part of this debate is the notion that if Bureau of Land Management and other agencies of the Department of Interior were located out west instead of in Washington, D.C., they’d be more attuned to local interests. (Keep in mind that the Interior Secretary is almost always from a Western state, and there are field offices around the country.)
Well, Secretary of Interior Ryan Zinke, a former Montana congressman, reportedly told agency employees at a meeting in the Denver that the Bureau of Land Management, Fish and Wildlife Service, and the Bureau of Reclamation “will probably” move to Denver.
This idea was put forward previously by U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner and U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton, both Colorado Republicans, and in a press release Friday, Gardner said he was “thrilled” with the report.
“I’m thrilled Secretary Zinke is looking to relocate the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) West and move the agency’s headquarters to Colorado,” he said. “Ninety-nine percent of the nearly 250 million acres of land managed by BLM is west of the Mississippi River, and having the decision-makers present in the communities they impact will lead to better results. This is an idea I first proposed last summer, and after a year of work, it seems it will soon become a reality. I will continue to work with Secretary Zinke to further this effort and look forward to welcoming BLM to Colorado soon.”
The report comes from E&E News, which reports on energy and environmental issues and obtained notes of the July meeting with senior executives of the U.S. Geological Survey.
“Zinke provided an overview of his reorganization plans to the senior executives during a July 21 lunch, USGS spokesman Dave Ozman confirmed. It included discussion of the secretary’s desire to shift more department resources and personnel from Washington to field offices across the country and empower front-line employees with more decisionmaking authority.”
E&E has lots more about potential reorganization in Interior, including the controversial reassignment of senior officials. There is also this interesting comment from Lynn Scarlett, a former Interior Department deputy secretary and chief operating officer who also served as acting Interior secretary during the George W. Bush administration, who now works for the Nature Conservancy.
“Reorganization is not free,” Scarlett told E&E. “It comes with political costs, practical costs, human capital costs. So you really have to ask, what is it that you are trying to accomplish, and what are the best ways to accomplish that?”
During this same July visit to Denver, Zinke addressed the Western Conservative Summit and said he would pursue a policy of much more aggressive exploitation of natural resources, while insisting those efforts could co-exist with environmental protections.