The Purpose Of The Bureau Of Land Management

Bureau of Land ManagementThe Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is an agency within the United States Department of the Interior that administers more than 247.3 million acres of public lands in the United States which constitutes one-eighth of the landmass of the country.  President Harry S. Truman created the BLM in 1946 by combining two existing agencies: the General Land Office and the Grazing Service.  The agency manages the federal government’s nearly 700 million acres of subsurface mineral estate located beneath federal, state and private lands severed from their surface rights by the Homestead Act of 1862.  Most BLM public lands are located in these 12 western states: Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, Washington and Wyoming.

The mission of the Bureau of Land Management is “to sustain the health, diversity, and productivity of the public lands for the use and enjoyment of present and future generations.”  Ranchers hold nearly 18,000 permits and leases for livestock grazing on 155 million acres of BLM public lands.  The agency manages 221 wilderness areas, 23 national monuments and some 636 other protected areas as part of the National Landscape Conservation System and there are more than 63,000 oil and gas wells on BLM public lands.

The History Of The Bureau Of Land Management

Fed Lands-USGSThe 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 American Revolution.  As additional lands were acquired by the United States from Spain, France and other countries, the United States Congress directed that they be explored, surveyed, and made available for settlement.

Over the years, other bounty land and homestead laws were enacted to dispose of federal land.  A system of local land offices spread throughout the territories, patenting land that was surveyed via the corresponding Office of the Surveyor General of a particular territory.  This pattern gradually spread across the entire United States

In the early 20th century, Congress took additional steps toward recognizing the value of the assets on public lands and 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 United States Grazing Service.

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.  The Bureau of Land Management became less focused on land disposal and more focused on the long term management and preservation of the land.  As a matter of course, the BLM’s emphasis fell on activities in the western states as most of the mining, land sales, and federally owned areas are located west of the Mississippi.

BLM personnel on the ground have typically been oriented toward local interests, while bureau management in Washington are led by presidential guidance.  The Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976 directed that these lands be managed with a view toward “multiple use” 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.”

Bureau Of Land Management Programs

Grazing. The BLM manages livestock grazing on nearly 155 million acres under the Taylor Grazing Act of 1934.  The agency has granted more than 18,000 permits and leases to ranchers who graze their livestock, mostly cattle and sheep, at least part of the year on BLM public lands.

BLM Mining ClaimsMining. Domestic production from over 63,000 Federal “onshore” oil and gas wells on BLM lands accounts for 11 percent of the natural gas supply and five percent of the oil supply in the United States.  BLM has on record a total of 290,000 mining claims under the General Mining Law of 1872.

Coal leases. The BLM holds the coal mineral estate to more than 570 million acres where the owner of the surface is the federal government, a state or local government, or a private entity.  As of 2013, the BLM had competitively granted 309 leases for coal mining to 474,252 acres, an increase of 13,487 acres.

Recreation. The BLM administers 205,498 miles of fishable streams, 2.2 million acres of lakes and reservoirs, 6,600 miles of floatable rivers, over 500 boating access points, 69 National Back Country Byways, and 300 Watchable Wildlife sites.  The agency also manages 4,500 miles of National Scenic, National Historic and National Recreation Trails, as well as thousands of miles of multiple use trails used by motorcyclists, hikers, equestrians, and mountain bikers.

California Desert Conservation Area. The California Desert Conservation Area covers 25 million acres (100,000 km2) of land in southern California designated by Congress in 1976 by means of the Federal Land Policy and Management Act.

Timberlands. The Bureau manages 55 million acres of forests and woodlands, including 11 million acres of commercial forest and 44 million acres of woodlands in 11 western states and Alaska.  53 million acres are productive forests and woodlands on public domain lands and 2.4 million acres are on O&C lands in western Oregon.


Fire Fighters on BLM LandsFirefighting. Well in excess of 3,000 full-time equivalent firefighting personnel work for BLM.  The agency fought 2,573 fires on BLM-managed lands in fiscal year 2013.

Mineral rights on Indian lands. As part of its trust responsibilities, the BLM provides technical advice for minerals operations on 56 million acres of Indian lands which a good portion resides in the west.

Cadastral surveys. The BLM is the official record keeper for over 200 years’ worth of cadastral survey records and plats as part of the Public Land Survey System.

Abandoned mines. BLM maintains an inventory of known abandoned mines on the lands ~around region~.  As of April 2014, the inventory contained nearly 46,000 sites and 85,000 other features.  Approximately 23% of the sites had either been remediated, had reclamation actions planned or underway, or did not require further action.

Energy corridors. Approximately 5,000 miles of energy corridors for pipelines and transmission lines are located on BLM-managed lands.

Helium. BLM operates the National Helium Reserve near Amarillo, Texas, a program begun in 1925 during the time of the Zeppelin Wars.  Though the reserve had been set to be moved to private hands, it remains subject to oversight of the BLM under the provisions of the unanimously-passed Responsible Helium Administration and Stewardship Act of 2013.

Revenue and fees. The BLM produces significant revenue for the United States budget.  In 2009, public lands were expected to generate an estimated $6.2 billion in revenues, mostly from energy development.   Nearly 43.5 percent of these funds are provided directly to states and counties to support roads, schools, and other community needs.

BLM Law Enforcement And Security

Hartman Rocks TrailsThe BLM, through its Office of Law Enforcement & Security, functions as a federal law enforcement agency of the United States Government.

Uniformed rangers enforce laws and regulations governing BLM lands and resources.  As part of that mission, these BLM rangers carry firearms, defensive equipment, make arrests, execute search warrants, complete reports and testify in court.

By contrast BLM special agents are criminal investigators who plan and conduct investigations concerning possible violations of criminal and administrative provisions of the BLM and other statutes under the United States Code.  Special agents are normally plain clothes officers who carry concealed firearms, and other defensive equipment, make arrests, carry out complex criminal investigations, present cases for prosecution to local United States Attorneys and prepare investigative reports.

The BLM Wild Horse And Burro Program

Wild HorsesThe BLM manages free-roaming horses and burros on public lands in ten western states.  Though they are feral, the agency is obligated to protect them under the Wild and Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act of 1971 (WFRHBA).  As the horses have few natural predators, populations have grown substantially.  WFRHBA as enacted provides for the removal of excess animals; the destruction of lame, old, or sick animals; the private placement or adoption of excess animals; and even the destruction of healthy animals if range management required it.

In fact, the destruction of healthy or unhealthy horses has almost never occurred.  Pursuant to the Public Rangelands Improvement Act of 1978, the BLM has established 179 “herd management areas” (HMAs) covering 31.6 million acres where feral horses can be found on federal lands.

In 1973, BLM began a pilot project on the Pryor Mountains Wild Horse Range known as the Adopt-A-Horse initiative.  The program took advantage of provisions in the WFRHBA to allow private “qualified” individuals to “adopt” as many horses as they wanted if they could show that they could provide adequate care for the animals.  At the time, title to the horses remained permanently with the federal government.  The pilot project was so successful that BLM allowed it to go nationwide in 1976.

Despite the early successes of the adoption program, the BLM has struggled to maintain acceptable herd levels, as without natural predators, herd sizes can double every four years.  As of 2014, there were more than 49,000 horses and burros on BLM-managed land, exceeding the BLM’s estimated “appropriate management level” (AML) by almost 22,500.

BLM Renewable Energy Initiative

BLM Public Access RestrictionsIn 2009, BLM opened Renewable Energy Coordination Offices in order to approve and oversee wind, solar, biomass, and geothermal projects on BLM-managed lands.  The offices were located in the four states where energy companies had shown the greatest interest in renewable energy development: Arizona, California, Nevada, and Wyoming.

Solar energy. In 2010, BLM approved the first utility-scale solar energy projects on public land.  As of 2014, 70 solar energy projects covering 560,000 acres had been proposed on public lands managed by BLM primarily located in Arizona, California, and Nevada.

Wind energy. BLM manages 20.6 million acres of public lands with wind potential.  It has authorized 39 wind energy development projects with a total approved capacity of 5,557 megawatts or enough to supply the power needs of over 1.5 million homes.  In addition, BLM has authorized over 100 wind energy testing sites.

Geothermal energy. BLM manages 59 geothermal leases in producing status, with a total capacity of 1,500 megawatts.  This amounts to over 40 percent of the geothermal energy capacity in the United States.