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Bureau Of Land Management Moves Headquarters To Grand Junction, Colo.

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Nearly all of the public land overseen by the Bureau of Land Management is out West. Now the agency plans to move its headquarters there, too, from Washington, D.C., to the small western Colorado city of Grand Junction. While some cheer the decision, others say this move will destabilize the agency. From Grand Junction, Colo., Public Radio's Stina Sieg looks at the debate.

STINA SIEG, BYLINE: Ask Colorado's Republican U.S. Senator Cory Gardner why it's good the BLM is moving West, and he'll say the same thing he's been saying since he first proposed the idea in 2016.

CORY GARDNER: It's about the fact that 99% of our public lands are west of the Mississippi River, and the people who represent those lands ought to be in those lands.

SIEG: And being in those lands will lead to better decisions by the agency, says Gardner. He and Colorado Congressman Scott Tipton first brought up this move during the Obama administration. Now the idea has morphed into the agency being decentralized with most of its D.C.-based staff moving to regional offices across the West. Robin Brown of the Grand Junction Economic Partnership describes her response when she first heard the news.

ROBIN BROWN: I'm probably embarrassed to say disbelief (laughter).

SIEG: Because even though she and city leaders have worked hard to woo the BLM, it seemed unlikely this community of less than 60,000 could compete against the bigger, better-known western cities in the running including Tucson, Boise and Salt Lake. Some of those cities may still get an influx from the more-than-200 BLM employees being moved out of Washington, but Grand Junction will have the prestige of being the official home of the BLM and its director, deputy director and staff, about 30 people total. Brown says it's a big deal for this remote place.

BROWN: I mean, I imagine it will swing our economy, just that one announcement.

SIEG: But as excited as Grand Junction is, many people outside this high desert city are deeply skeptical of the move. The Public Lands Foundation, made up of mostly former BLM employees, opposes it, saying it will likely gut the agency as many of its workers won't want to move. And Democratic Congressman Raul Grijalva of Arizona sees another worry. Moving to Colorado means the BLM will be that much closer to the oil and gas industry.

RAUL GRIJALVA: It makes it easier for the special interests to have access without a lot of accountability and light somewhere else than here in D.C. And I think that works to their advantage.

SIEG: And not to the public's, Grijalva says.

For NPR News, I'm Stina Sieg in Grand Junction, Colo. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.