GRAND JUNCTION, Colorado (AP) – Home Secretary Deb Haaland paid her first visit to the new headquarters of her department’s Bureau of Land Management in Colorado on Friday after the Trump administration’s relocation from the country’s capital sparked criticism that the move was meant to be the agency to eradicate that oversees large parts of the public ends up in the west. Haaland said one of her first goals was to keep the agency’s welfare in mind when considering the future of her headquarters, the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel reported.
She also said she was open to the possibility that Grand Junction would play what she called “a significant role” in the agency’s future.
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“We have to create a way forward for clarity and prevent employees from being faced with uncertainty again under future administrations,” she said during a press conference. “We owe that to the people at Grand Junction, too.”
After moving to Grand Junction in 2019 and after four years without a confirmed director, the BLM headquarters was in turmoil in terms of personnel.
Interior had planned to relocate more than 320 jobs at headquarters to western Colorado, but agency officials recently confirmed that only three workers ultimately moved. The disclosure was first reported by the Colorado Newsline media agency.
Haaland is checking whether the move should endure. Proponents of the move called it a reorganization that will bring top officials closer to the nearly quarter billion acres of public land they oversee. Environmentalists say it weakened the agency that deals with fossil fuel extraction, recreation and ranching. As a congressman, Haaland was against it.
Haaland, who met with community leaders, Governor Jared Polis, and members of the Colorado Congressional Delegation, was in Grand Junction to discuss the federal government’s forest fire preparedness and response efforts. Forest fires are raging again in the west; The Bootleg Fire in southern Oregon is one of the largest in the state’s modern history. Colorado experienced its three largest forest fires on record last year.
Extremely dry conditions and the recent heat waves related to climate change have made fighting forest fires difficult. Climate change has made the west much warmer and drier over the past 30 years and will continue to make the weather more extreme and forest fires more frequent and destructive.
Last year, forest fires burned more than 10 million acres of land and nearly 18,000 homes and other structures, according to federal data and the Headwaters Economics research group.
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US officials have announced that they will try to put out forest fires as soon as possible to avoid fires like the Bootleg Fire. The administration also wants to significantly expand the areas where tree thinning, controlled burns and other measures to reduce combustible material are used.
The federal government spends about $ 2 to 3 billion annually on fighting forest fires. The government is aiming to increase the additional funding nearly 40% to $ 1.7 billion to address fire hazards from thinning, controlled burns and related projects.
The Polis and Colorado congressional delegation has asked the Biden government to keep the BLM’s headquarters in Grand Junction. US Democratic Senator John Hickenlooper, who invited Haaland to visit Grand Junction, said the headquarters move was “in a hurry” and abandoned the city, which was hoping for economic recovery.
The office has nearly 10,000 employees, most of them in branch offices in the west.
President Joe Biden’s candidate for leadership of the BLM, Tracy Stone-Manning, received no Republican support in a Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee vote on her nomination Thursday. The GOP has criticized Biden’s selection for alleged links to a 1989 environmental sabotage investigation.
Stone-Manning will face a full Senate vote to become the new director. It would take every Republican in the Senate and at least one Democratic MP to block their confirmation in the evenly divided chamber. Haaland, who would become Stone-Manning’s boss, reiterated her full support for the candidate after Thursday’s vote.
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