Tribune editorial: The Bureau of Land Management belongs in Utah, but it still belongs to the nation

(Al Hartmann | The Salt Lake Tribune) Photographer Jonathan Bailey passes by Fremont petroglyph of three figures high in the sandstone caprock in the Molen Reef area of the San Rafael Swell, which is managed by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management.

Headquarter the U.S. Bureau of Land Management in Utah? Absolutely. Just don’t start thinking it will be the Utah Bureau of Land Management.

With the encouragement of Rep. Rob Bishop and Gov. Gary Herbert, Acting Assistant Secretary of Interior Susan Combs came to town this week to discuss a possible move to either Salt Lake City or Ogden. Her boss, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, has pushed the idea of moving more of Interior’s work to the western United States where most federal lands are.

BLM land constitutes one-eighth of the nation, mainly in 12 western states — Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, Washington and Wyoming.

That includes more than two-fifths of Utah — some 22.9 million acres. There clearly are some BLM functions that need to remain in D.C., but anything that can be moved closer to BLM land should be.

And Utah sits right in the middle of BLM land. Salt Lake has all the amenities of a large U.S. city, including a major international airport. And Ogden has a long and successful history with federal employers, including Hill Air Force Base, the U.S. Forest Service and the Internal Revenue Service. The state’s research universities provide a knowledge base.

Bishop and Herbert are right that the move would bring some upper-level BLM bureaucrats closer to the people most affected by their decisions. The inside-the-beltway mentality is real, and that’s true whether it’s Democrats or Republicans in the White House and controlling Congress.

But Herbert oversold the benefits when he said such a move “will alleviate the anger and anxiety we have out here. It will change the nature of the discourses and relations the Intermountain West has with the rest of the country.”

First of all, that “anger and anxiety” regarding the BLM is not universal. There are plenty of Utahns who would be more upset if Herbert and the Utah Legislature were calling the shots on Utah’s federal lands.

More importantly, putting BLM's offices in Utah wouldn't change the fact that Utah's BLM lands belong as much to New Yorkers as they do to Utahns.

Until Utah’s leaders come to grips with that, they’ll still be angry and anxious when BLM acts in the interest of all Americans. That will be true whether they are acting from D.C. or from Ogden.