After years of debate and months of speculation, Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) officially announced that the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is moving its headquarters from Washington, DC, to Grand Junction, Colo.

“Today is a great day for Colorado and a great day for Grand Junction,” Gardner said in a pre-taped video announcing the move. “…This means that people will be able to have greater say, greater impact on public lands decisions that affect their community.”

Gardner has been one of the primary advocates for moving the BLM out West.  The agency manages nearly 250 million acres, 99 percent of which are west of the Mississippi River.

The idea first surfaced during a Senate Energy and Natural Resources Subcommittee hearing on Public Lands, Forests and Mining back in June 2016.  During a line of questioning about local input to BLM decisions with then-BLM Director Neil Kornze, Gardner asked, “We were looking at a map here, of the BLM, the public lands in the Western United States.  Do you think it’s time we move the BLM headquarters to the western part of the United States?”

At the time, Kornze responded with a chuckle, “I would be open to that conversation.”

Momentum for the idea continued to build and was featured more prominently during former Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke’s Senate confirmation hearing in 2017.

After Gardner asked whether he was in favor of moving BLM officials who worked on public lands issues out west, Zinke replied that he supported that notion.

“I think the bottom line is decisions oftentimes are better at the frontline if you empower your people to do them,” Zinke said.

During his tenure, Zinke took proactive steps to relocate BLM’s headquarters.  Then-Deputy Interior Secretary David Bernhardt publicly confirmed that the Department of the Interior would move BLM from Washington, DC, in April 2018.  Once Bernhardt took over as the head of the agency, he continued to pursue those plans.

“A re-organization is not about where you are putting something, it is about how will these changes be better for the American people. My view is that I have to be able to confidently answer how these changes will make for a better organization. At the end of the day, the question is, what is the optimal way to run the BLM in a way that serves the American people. You can look at the facts and come to different conclusions,” Bernhardt told Western Wire in June in reference to the decision making process.

Once the idea of BLM relocation gained attention, it attracted bipartisan support from Western officials and Members of Congress.

In 2017, then-Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) and Denver Mayor Michael Hancock (D) expressed their support for relocation out West during a panel discussion hosted by the Colorado Petroleum Council.

“I think there’s too much concentration of decision making in Washington already.  Having some of that spread out in other parts of the country is not necessarily a bad idea,” Hickenlooper said at the time.

Shortly thereafter, Gardner and Rep. Scott Tipton (R-Colo.) introduced complementary bills in the U.S. Senate and House which called on the Department of the Interior to submit a strategy for moving BLM to a western state.  Both Rep. Ed Pearlmutter (D-Colo.) and then-Rep. and current Colorado Governor Jared Polis (D) co-sponsored Tipton’s bill.

There were several cities up for consideration, including Denver, Boise and Salt Lake City, among others.  Last year, Gardner and Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) wrote an open letter to then-Interior Secretary Zinke urging the agency to choose Grand Junction as the ultimate location.

“Grand Junction is centrally located and offers easy access to a major interstate and an expanding airport, and has existing federal facilities and infrastructure. Its reasonable cost-of-living and outstanding quality of life, along with its proximity to institutions like Colorado Mesa University, would help attract and retain high-quality employees,” the Senators wrote.

Today Polis praised the decision in an interview with KDVR.

“[The move is] important for Grand Junction because it really puts them on the map with being a center for BLM, close to the lands they manage, but also for all of Colorado because Front Range residents enjoy our public lands, hiking, hunting fishing,” Polis said.  “So it’s really exciting that we’re bringing the management of those lands a little bit closer to where they are in Western Colorado.”

Polis added that plans should be in the works to establish direct flights between Grand Junction and Washington, DC.

Not all officials were on board with the move.  House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.) took a different position.

“Putting BLM headquarters down the road from Secretary [David] Bernhardt’s home town just makes it easier for special interests to walk in the door demanding favors without congressional oversight or accountability,” Grijalva said in a statement.

Grijalva was referencing the fact that Grand Junction is close to Bernhardt’s hometown of Rifle, Colo., though Bernhardt has only served as Interior Secretary since April.

As of now nearly 80 BLM employees are expected to relocate to Grand Junction.