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Concerns Over BLM’s Potential Merger of its New Mexico and Arizona State Offices

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Former Associate
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By Christopher Payne

The U.S. Bureau of Land Management is considering a proposal to merge its New Mexico and Arizona State Offices into a single state office with headquarters in Santa Fe, New Mexico. According to the BLM, the purpose of a merger would be to increase efficiencies and reduce the BLM’s operating costs.

The potential merger is facing opposition by some members of Congress and trade groups. In a letter sent on May 6, 2015, thirteen members of Congress from seven western states requested that the BLM suspend any consideration of merger until the BLM has engaged affected stakeholders and studied the potential impacts of a merger. Similarly, the Western Energy Alliance—a nonprofit trade association representing more than 450 companies engaged in all aspects of oil and natural gas exploration and production in the western United States and Canada—has expressed concern about the impact of a merger on the ability of BLM to effectively manage federal lands in New Mexico and Arizona due to the large amount of land under BLM stewardship in those two states.

In addition, House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz, Oversight Interior Subcommittee Chairman Cynthia Lummis, Natural Resources Federal Lands Subcommittee Chairman Tom McClintock, and House Oversight Interior Subcommittee Member Paul Gosar, sent a letter to BLM Director Neil Kornze on May 18, 2015 urging “the BLM to suspend [the merger] action until [the BLM] has more seriously studied the ramifications of the merger, analyzed the impacts of previous office mergers by the BLM and other federal agencies, and engaged with state and local governments and other impacted stakeholders.” And at a May 13, 2015 hearing of the U.S. Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior, Environment and Related Agencies, U.S. Senator Tom Udall (D-N.M.) also expressed concern about the merger proposal, stating that he was skeptical of the idea because a merger would mean less time for a director to focus on a state’s particular concerns and issues.

The BLM’s mission and purpose, as set forth in the Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976, is to manage public land resources for a variety of uses, including energy development, grazing, recreation, livestock, and timber harvesting, while protecting natural, cultural, and historical resources. The BLM administers over 245 million surface acres of federal lands and 700 million acres of sub-surface mineral estate—more than any other federal agency. Most of this land is located in the 12 western states, including Alaska. The New Mexico and Arizona State Offices manage millions of acres of wilderness areas, national monuments, recreation areas (including fishing and hunting areas), and grazing lands, as well as managing mining claim records and mineral leases on millions of acres of federal lands.

The BLM’s Arizona State Office is based in Phoenix, has over 400 employees and manages 12.2 million acres of federal public lands in Arizona and 17.5 million acres of federal subsurface acres. The BLM’s New Mexico State Office is based in Santa Fe, has approximately 700 employees covering four states—New Mexico, Oklahoma, Texas and Kansas—and manages 13.5 million acres of public lands and 26 million acres of federal subsurface acres.