I was delighted to read Sen. Cory Gardner, a Colorado Republican, has introduced a bill to move the headquarters of the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) from Washington, D.C., to one of 12 western states, including Colorado and Nevada. I think this move is long overdue for a variety of reasons.
One important reason for moving BLM headquarters to the West is more than 99 percent of the land the Bureau manages is in western states. This means senior bureaucrats in Washington make critical decisions on federal lands located hundreds, or even thousands, of miles away from our nation’s capital.
“You’re dealing with an agency that basically has no business in Washington, D.C.,” Gardner said as he introduced his bill to move agency headquarters. Somewhat surprisingly, Congressman Mark Amodei, a Carson City Republican who has negotiated a series of federal land transfers to Nevada counties, isn’t co-sponsoring similar legislation in the House of Representatives. According to the Associated Press, Amodei called Gardner’s bill “intriguing,” but stopped short of an endorsement, saying only, “I’m excited they’re looking at it.” Our congressman added federal officials know little about public lands in Nevada ... but we already knew that.
As I’ve written many times, I think it’s a scandal the federal government owns 85 percent of Nevada’s total land area, more than 58 million acres. The BLM manages two-thirds of that vast acreage while the U.S. Forest Service and other agencies manage the rest. This makes no sense in a constitutional republic where all powers not granted to the federal government belong to the states.
As the AP reported, “Some Westerners have long argued that federal land managers should be closer to the land they oversee ... (and) now they have an ally in Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, a Montanan who is leading President Trump’s charge to roll back environmental regulations and encourage energy development on public lands.” Obviously, that’s a tendentious description of Trump’s land management policies, which are designed to return parcels of federal lands to the states in accordance with the Tenth Amendment to the Constitution.
Trump and Zinke have already started to decentralize federal lands by downsizing two huge national monuments — Bears Ears National Monument in Utah and the Grand Staircase/Escalante Monument in Arizona — created by ex-President Obama before he left office. Zinke has also recommended scaling back the new Gold Butte National Monument in Southern Nevada, a move applauded by Republican members of Nevada’s congressional delegation, including Amodei and Sen. Dean Heller, also of Carson City. Central Nevada’s Basin and Range National Monument should be added to the downsizing list.
As usual, Democrats claimed Trump and Republicans want to destroy the environment. Sen. Catherine Cortez-Masto of Las Vegas said downsizing national monuments “threatens over a century of environmental protections guaranteed by the Antiquities Act,” which, by the way, requires presidents to limit national monuments to “the smallest area compatible with proper care and management of the objects to be protected.”
Two of my Reno friends, policy wonk Ty Cobb and author/historian Stan Paher, wrote a December op-ed piece objecting to “the grandiose size of Nevada’s two new monuments, Gold Butte, and Basin and Range. We advocate for responsible and reasonable designations ... (and) not for oversized monuments whose boundaries extend well beyond valuable (antiquities) sites.” Amen!
Finally, although most of BLM’s 9,000 employees are scattered around the country, 400 top decision-makers are still located in Washington, D.C., far from the lands they’re supposed to manage. Most of them should head West, where the action is.
Guy W. Farmer is the Appeal’s senior political columnist.