SALT LAKE CITY — A rural lawmaker figures if federal agencies are going to manage the land they own impacting the lives of state and local residents, why not move those agencies closer?
Rep. Carl Albrecht, R-Richfield, is running HJR02 to urge consideration of relocating the headquarters of the Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Forest Service to Utah.
"My daddy always told me, he said, 'If you want to manage the land, you've got to be near it,’" Albrecht told members of the Natural Resources, Agriculture and Environment Subcommittee on Tuesday.
The resolution passed unanimously, garnering support from fellow members of the committee who said they've too often heard complaints from local residents about the disconnect between Washington, D.C., and the rural issues of the West.
"In the area where I come from, you need to understand the people who live there and love the land," said Rep. Christine Watkins, R-Price. "One of the main complaints I get from people is that (these people and agencies) live so far away and are so removed from everything we do."
Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, who oversees agencies like the BLM, the Bureau of Reclamation (over dams) and the Bureau of Indian Affairs, has already publicly discussed his desire to institute a major organizational overhaul that puts decision-makers closer to the lands and infrastructure managed in the West.
Zinke brought the issue up at a meeting of oil and gas producers and has talked with ranchers about the need to have more people on the ground and fewer staff in the office. His reorganization proposal would be the largest in the agency's history, dividing the United States into 13 regions. He's held meetings with top Interior staff to detail his plan, which would require the relocation of thousands of employees.
Critics, like former Interior Secretary Sally Jewell, argue such a move would be costly and not plausible given the amount of operational business that occurs in the nation's capital.
Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance's Mathew Gross also said it would be a bad idea for these agencies to land in Utah.
"Given Utah’s vocal history of bashing the federal government and seeking to seize public lands from the American people, Utah is uniquely unqualified to be home to federal public land agencies," Gross said. "These agencies are charged with managing public lands on behalf of all Americans, not just the state and local officials who would be beating a path to their door if this scheme came to fruition."Comment on this story
But Albrecht said the idea is worthy given that it would be a good economic driver for Utah and put people closer to the land they manage. "It would be good to have land managers out here to see where the land is."
Rep. Scott Chew, R-Jensen, said it is one thing to see a picture of dying timber, but an entirely different perspective comes from seeing the tinder-like conditions across the landscape firsthand.
"There is an opportunity to do a better job if we have decision-making closer at hand," he said.