[Public Land Statistics, 1996]
[The BLM: The Agency and its History]
[From the U.S. Government Printing Office, www.gpo.gov]

The BLM: The Agency and its History

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is responsible for managing over 264 million acres of land -- about one-eighth of the land in the United States -- as well as 300 million additional acres of subsurface mineral resources. Most of these lands are located in the western United States, including Alaska, and are characterized by extensive rangelands, forests, high mountains, arctic tundra, and deserts. The BLM manages a wide variety of commercial, cultural, recreational, and wilderness resources on the public lands.

The Early Years of Land Management

The BLM's roots go back to the Land Ordinance of 1785 and the Northwest Ordinance of 1787. These laws provided for the survey and settlement of the lands that the original 13 colonies ceded to the Federal government after the War of Independence. As additional lands were acquired by the United States from Spain, France, and other countries, Congress directed that they be explored, surveyed and made available for settlement. In 1812, Congress established the General Land Office in the Department of Treasury to oversee the disposition of these federal lands. As the 19th century progressed and the Nation's land base expanded further west, Congress encouraged the settlement of the land by enacting a wide variety of laws, including:

All these statutes served one of the major policy goals of the young country -- settlement of the Western territories. With the exception of the Mining Law of 1872 and the Desert Land Act (which was amended), all have since been repealed or superseded by other statutes.

The BLM is Formed

The late 19th century marked a shift in Federal land management priorities with the creation of the first national parks, forests, and wildlife refuges. By withdrawing these lands from settlement, Congress signaled a shift in the policy goals served by the public lands. Instead of using them to promote settlement, Congress recognized that they should be held in public ownership because they had other resource values.

In the early 20th century, Congress, taking additional steps toward recognizing the value of the assets on public lands, directed the Executive Branch to manage activities on the remaining public lands. The Mineral Leasing Act of 1920 allowed leasing, exploration, and production of selected commodities such as coal, oil, gas and sodium to take place on public lands. The Taylor Grazing Act of 1934 established the U.S. Grazing Service to manage the public rangelands. In 1946, the Grazing Service was merged with the General Land Office to form the Bureau of Land Management within the Department of the Interior.

A New Land Policy

When the BLM was created, there were over 2,000 unrelated and often conflicting laws concerning management of public lands. The BLM had no unified legislative mandate until Congress enacted the Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976 (FLPMA). In FLPMA, Congress recognized the value of the remaining public lands by declaring that these lands would remain in public ownership. Congress also gave us the term "multiple use" management, defined as "management of the public lands and their various resource values so that they are utilized in the combination that will best meet the present and future needs of the American people."

The BLM Today

While adhering to the FLPMA multiple-use mandate, the BLM has kept pace with new laws, court decisions, and changing public demands.

Americans increasingly value the public lands for their environmental resources, the recreational opportunities they offer, their cultural resources, and, in an increasingly urban world, their vast open spaces. FLPMA's multiple-use mandate requires the BLM to balance the public's newer demand for more recreation with more traditional uses -- including commodity extraction and grazing.

In managing the public lands, the BLM performs a wide variety of functions, including:

As the BLM celebrates its 50th Anniversary in 1996, it looks forward to continuing its service to the public while strengthening its partnerships with other Federal agencies; State, tribal, and local governments; and all who use or care about the public lands. Through its collaborative approach to management, the BLM will ensure the health, diversity, and productivity of the public lands for the use and enjoyment of present and future generations of Americans.