Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

Utah Leaders Make Sales Pitch For BLM Relocation To Ogden

Leaders shake hands at meeting in Ogden.
Julia Ritchey / KUER
Susan Combs, acting assistant secretary at the Interior Department, shakes hands with a Weber County Commissioner on Aug. 28 during a visit to Ogden.

Utah elected officials and business leaders made a full-court press on Tuesday to a visiting Interior Department official for why the federal government should relocate the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to Northern Utah from the nation’s capital.

Susan Combs, an acting assistant secretary at the U.S. Department of the Interior, attended a public meeting at the Weber County Commission chambers in Ogden to discuss a proposed reorganization of the department, which oversees some 480 million surface acres.

Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, whose district includes Ogden, facilitated Tuesday’s meeting, which was attended by Weber County Commissioners, Ogden’s mayor and some business leaders.

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke is proposing a complete restructure of the department, streamlining the agency’s eight bureaus in 49 regions down to 12 regions. Zinke is also proposing relocating some agencies, such as the BLM and U.S. Fish and Wildlife, to western states.

“That’s the goal is to reorganize by devolving power out,” Combs, who oversees policy, management and budget for the department, said.

She said not only would this help with inter-bureau collaboration but allow state and local lawmakers better access to federal decision-makers currently located in Washington, D.C..

“The Secretary wants all decision making basically to be driven locally,” Combs added.

Touting the state’s plentiful public lands, whichcomprise nearly two-thirds of the state, and outdoor recreation opportunities, Gov. Gary Herbert told the visiting official the Beehive State would be a logical choice for the BLM relocation.

“When we talk about ‘location, location, location,’ Madam Secretary, there is no better location to bring the headquarters of the BLM than to the state of Utah,” Herbert said.

When we talk about 'location, location, location,' Madam Secretary, there is no better location to bring the headquarters of the BLM than to the state of Utah. — Gov. Gary Herbert

He said a relocation could also help ameliorate long-simmering tensions between some western states and federal land managers over designations and other politically sensitive topics.

“We have animus that probably ought not to be there,” he said. “And yet I see this change now that’s more of ‘Let’s listen to what the local people have to say,’ bringing about a more positive and productive discussion.”

Bishop said there are several reasons the Interior Department should consider Ogden over other candidates in the running, such as Grand Junction, Colo.

“First of all it has facilities that would be available right now — there are federal buildings that have space. It’s actually cheaper for the cost of living to it and the airport out here in Ogden actually has the potential of expanding,” he said.

Both Combs and Bishop acknowledged the process of moving agencies outside of Washington could take years and will likely face some resistance.

“There’s pushback from people who don’t want it to go anywhere else,” Bishop said. “What she’s saying is, ‘What you really need is to have people making decisions that are close to the people doing the stuff.’”

What she's saying is 'What you really need is to have people making decisions that are close to the people doing the stuff.' — Rep. Rob Bishop

Asked by a Tribune reporter to respond to the argument that managing public lands should remain centralized because they are of national interest, Bishop replied “That’s a crap argument.”

“Look at the BLM map,” he said. “BLM has 44 percent of all the land the federal government owns — it’s all west of Denver.”

Julia joined KUER in 2016 after a year reporting at the NPR member station in Reno, Nev. During her stint, she covered battleground politics, school overcrowding, and any story that would take her to the crystal blue shores of Lake Tahoe. Her work earned her two regional Edward R. Murrow awards. Originally from the mountains of Western North Carolina, Julia graduated from UNC-Chapel Hill in 2008 with a degree in journalism. She’s worked as both a print and radio reporter in several states and several countries — from the 2008 Beijing Olympics to Dakar, Senegal. Her curiosity about the American West led her to take a spontaneous, one-way road trip to the Great Basin, where she intends to continue preaching the gospel of community journalism, public radio and podcasting. In her spare time, you’ll find her hanging with her beagle Bodhi, taking pictures of her food and watching Patrick Swayze movies.
KUER is listener-supported public radio. Support this work by making a donation today.