Bureau of Land Management

Bureau of Land Management

Bureau of Land Management Triangle

Flag of the Bureau of Land Management
Agency overview
Formed 1946 (1946)
Preceding agencies
Jurisdiction United States federal government
Headquarters 1849 C Street NW Room 5665, Washington, D.C., U.S. 20240
Employees 11,621 Permanent and 30,860 Volunteer (FY 2012)[1]
Annual budget $1,162,000,000 (FY 2014 operating)[1]
Agency executive
  • Neil Kornze, Director
Parent agency U.S. Department of the Interior
Website blm.gov
Horses crossing a plain near the Simpson Park Wilderness Study Area in central Nevada, managed by the Battle Mountain BLM Field Office
Snow-covered cliffs of Snake River Canyon, Idaho, managed by the Boise District of the BLM

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is an agency within the United States Department of the Interior that administers more than 247.3 million acres (1,001,000 km2) of public lands in the United States which constitutes one-eighth of the landmass of the country.[2] President Harry S. Truman created the BLM in 1946 by combining two existing agencies: the General Land Office and the Grazing Service.[3] The agency manages the federal government's nearly 700 million acres (2,800,000 km2) of subsurface mineral estate located beneath federal, state and private lands severed from their surface rights by the Homestead Act of 1862.[3] 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.[4]

This map shows land owned by different federal government agencies. The yellow represents the Bureau of Land Management's holdings.

The mission of the BLM is "to sustain the health, diversity, and productivity of the public lands for the use and enjoyment of present and future generations."[5] Originally BLM holdings were described as "land nobody wanted" because homesteaders had passed them by.[4] All the same, ranchers hold nearly 18,000 permits and leases for livestock grazing on 155 million acres (630,000 km2) of BLM public lands.[6] The agency manages 221 wilderness areas, 23 national monuments and some 636 other protected areas as part of the National Landscape Conservation System totaling about 30 million acres (120,000 km2).[7] There are more than 63,000 oil and gas wells on BLM public lands. Total energy leases generated approximately $5.4 billion in 2013, an amount divided among the Treasury, the states, and Native American groups.[8][9][10]


The BLM's roots go back to the Land Ordinance of 1785 and the Northwest Ordinance of 1787.[11] 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.[11] 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.[11] During the Revolutionary War, military bounty land was promised to soldiers who fought for the colonies.[12] After the war, the Treaty of Paris of 1783, signed by the United States, England, France, and Spain, ceded territory to the United States.[13][14] In the 1780s, other states relinquished their own claims to land in modern-day Ohio.[15] By this time, the United States needed revenue to function.[16] Land was sold so that the government would have money to survive.[16] In order to sell the land, surveys needed to be conducted. The Land Ordinance of 1785 instructed a geographer to oversee this work as undertaken by a group of surveyors.[16] The first years of surveying were completed by trial and error; once the territory of Ohio had been surveyed, a modern public land survey system had been developed.[17] In 1812, Congress established the General Land Office as part of the Department of the Treasury to oversee the disposition of these federal lands.[15] By the early 1800s, promised bounty land claims were finally fulfilled.[18]

Over the years, other bounty land and homestead laws were enacted to dispose of federal land.[11][18] Several different types of patents existed.[19] These include cash entry, credit, homestead, Indian, military warrants, mineral certificates, private land claims, railroads, state selections, swamps, town sites, and town lots.[19] 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.[19] This pattern gradually spread across the entire United States.[17] The laws that spurred this system with the exception of the General Mining Law of 1872 and the Desert Land Act of 1877 have since been repealed or superseded.[20]

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.[20] 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.[21] The Taylor Grazing Act of 1934 established the United States Grazing Service to manage the public rangelands by establishment of advisory boards that set grazing fees.[22][23] The Oregon and California Revested Lands Sustained Yield Management Act of 1937, commonly referred as the O&C Act, required sustained yield management of the timberlands in western Oregon.[24]

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.[20] It took several years for this new agency to integrate and reorganize.[25] In the end, the Bureau of Land Management became less focused on land disposal and more focused on the long term management and preservation of the land.[20] The agency achieved its current form by combining offices in the western states and creating a corresponding office for lands both east of and alongside the Mississippi River.[26] 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.[27]

BLM personnel on the ground have typically been oriented toward local interests, while bureau management in Washington are led by presidential guidance.[28] By means of the Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976, Congress created a more unified bureau mission and recognized the value of the remaining public lands by declaring that these lands would remain in public ownership.[11] The law 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."[29]

Since the Reagan years of the 1980s, Republicans have often given priority to local control and to grazing, mining and petroleum production, while Democrats have more often emphasized environmental concerns even when granting mining and drilling leases.[30] In September 1996, then President Bill Clinton used his authority under the Antiquities Act to establish the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in southern Utah, the first of now 20 national monuments established on BLM lands and managed by the agency.[7] The establishment of Grand Staircase-Escalante foreshadowed later creation of the BLM's National Landscape Conservation System in 2000. Use of the Antiquities Act authority, to the extent it effectively scuttled a coal mine to have been operated by Andalex Resources, delighted recreation and conservation enthusiasts but set up larger confrontations with state and local authorities.[31][32] The changing demographics in the western states have led some to suggest that the BLM, long derided as the "Bureau of Livestock and Mines," is in the midst of becoming the "Bureau of Landscapes and Monuments."[3]

BLM programs

Most of the public lands held by the Bureau of Land Management are located in the western states.[33]
Calm Before the Storm: Fatigued BLM Firefighters taking a break after a fire in Oregon in 2008

National Landscape Conservation System

Established in 2000, the National Landscape Conservation System is overseen by the BLM.[52] The National Landscape Conservation System lands constitute just about 12% of the lands managed by the BLM.[52] Congress passed Title II of the Omnibus Public Land Management Act of 2009 (Public Law 111-11) to make the system a permanent part of the public lands protection system in the United States.[52][53] By designating these areas for conservation, the law directed the BLM to ensure these places are protected for future generations, similar to national parks and wildlife refuges.[52]

Category Unit Type Number BLM acres BLM miles
National Conservation Lands National Monuments 20 5,590,135 acres (22,622.47 km2)
National Conservation Lands National Conservation Areas 16 3,671,519 acres (14,858.11 km2)
National Conservation Lands Areas Similar to National Conservation Areas 5 436,164 acres (1,765.09 km2)
Wilderness Wilderness Areas 221 8,711,938 acres (35,255.96 km2)
Wilderness Wilderness Study Areas 528 12,760,472 acres (51,639.80 km2)
National Wild and Scenic Rivers National Wild and Scenic Rivers 69 1,001,353 acres (4,052.33 km2) 2,423 miles (3,899 km)
National Trails System National Historic Trails 13 5,078 miles (8,172 km)
National Trails System National Scenic Trails 5 683 miles (1,099 km)
Totals 877 About 30 million acres (120,000 km2) (some units overlap) 8,184 miles (13,171 km)

Source: BLM Resources and Statistics[54]

Law enforcement and security

Lightning-sparked wildfires are frequent occurrences on BLM land in Nevada.

The BLM, through its Office of Law Enforcement & Security, functions as a federal law enforcement agency of the United States Government. BLM law enforcement rangers and special agents receive their training through Federal Law Enforcement Training Centers (FLETC).[55] Full-time staffing for these positions approaches 300.[56][57]

Uniformed rangers enforce laws and regulations governing BLM lands and resources.[58] As part of that mission, these BLM rangers carry firearms, defensive equipment, make arrests, execute search warrants, complete reports and testify in court.[58] They seek to establish a regular and recurring presence on a vast amount of public lands, roads and recreation sites. They focus on the protection of natural and cultural resources, other BLM employees and visitors.[58] Given the many locations of BLM public lands, these rangers use canines, helicopters, snowmobiles, dirt bikes and boats to perform their duties.[58]

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.[59] 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.[59] Criminal investigators occasionally conduct internal and civil claim investigations.[59]

Wild horse and burro program

Mustangs run across Tule Valley, Utah

The BLM manages free-roaming horses and burros on public lands in ten western states.[60] Though they are feral, the agency is obligated to protect them under the Wild and Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act of 1971 (WFRHBA).[60] As the horses have few natural predators, populations have grown substantially.[60] 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.[61][62] In fact, the destruction of healthy or unhealthy horses has almost never occurred.[63] Pursuant to the Public Rangelands Improvement Act of 1978, the BLM has established 179 "herd management areas" (HMAs) covering 31.6 million acres (128,000 km2) acres where feral horses can be found on federal lands.[60]

In 1973, BLM began a pilot project on the Pryor Mountains Wild Horse Range known as the Adopt-A-Horse initiative.[64] 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.[65] At the time, title to the horses remained permanently with the federal government.[62] The pilot project was so successful that BLM allowed it to go nationwide in 1976.[64] The Adopt-a-Horse program quickly became the primary method of removing excess feral horses from BLM land given the lack of other viable methods.[65] The BLM also uses limited amounts of contraceptives in the herd, in the form of PZP vaccinations; advocates say that additional use of these vaccines would help to diminish the excess number of horses currently under BLM management.[66]

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.[60] 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.[60]

Renewable energy

Aerial photograph of Ivanpah Solar Power Facility located on BLM-managed land in the Mohave Desert

In 2009, BLM opened Renewable Energy Coordination Offices in order to approve and oversee wind, solar, biomass, and geothermal projects on BLM-managed lands.[48] 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.[48]



  1. 1 2 "BLM Budget Highlights" (PDF). BLM. Retrieved 15 November 2014.
  2. "Public Land Statistics". BLM. Retrieved 15 November 2014.
  3. 1 2 3 Elliott, Clayton R. (August 2010). Innovation in the U.S. Bureau of Land Management: Insights from Integrating Mule Deer Management with Oil and Gas Leasing (Masters Thesis). University of Montana. pp. 42–51. Retrieved 14 November 2014.
  4. 1 2 "History of the BLM: Yesterday and Today". BLM California. Retrieved 15 November 2014.
  5. "The Bureau of Land Management: Who We Are, What We Do". BLM. Retrieved 15 November 2014.
  6. "Fact Sheet on the BLM's Management of Livestock Grazing". BLM. Retrieved 15 November 2014.
  7. 1 2 "National Conservation Lands". BLM. Retrieved 15 November 2014.
  8. See Part 3 of the BLM's Public Land Statistics, "Commercial Uses and Revenue Generated"
  9. "Oil and Gas". BLM. Retrieved 15 November 2014.
  10. "New Energy for America". BLM. Retrieved 15 November 2014.
  11. 1 2 3 4 5 "The BLM: The Agency and its History". GPO. Retrieved 14 November 2014.
  12. "Revolutionary War Pension and Bounty-Land-Warrant Application Files (p. 7)" (PDF). National Archives and Records Administration (1974). Retrieved 14 November 2014.
  13. "British-American Diplomacy Treaty of Paris - Hunter Miller's Notes". The Avalon Project at Yale Law School. Retrieved October 19, 2014.
  14. Black, Jeremy. British foreign policy in an age of revolutions, 1783–1793 (1994) pp 11–20
  15. 1 2 A History of the Rectangular Survey System by C. Albert White, 1983, Pub: Washington, D.C.: U.S. Dept. of the Interior, Bureau of Land Management: For sale by G.P.O.
  16. 1 2 3 Vernon Carstensen, "Patterns on the American Land." Journal of Federalism, Fall 1987, Vol. 18 Issue 4, pp 31-39
  17. 1 2 White, C. Albert (1991). A history of the rectangular survey system. Washington, DC: Government Printing Office.
  18. 1 2 "Revolutionary War Pension and Bounty-Land-Warrant Application Files (p. 3)" (PDF). National Archives and Records Administration (1974). Retrieved 14 November 2014.
  19. 1 2 3 "Records of the Bureau of Land Management [BLM] (Record Group 49) 1685-1993 (bulk 1770-1982)". National Archives and Records Administration. Retrieved 14 November 2014.
  20. 1 2 3 4 "BLM and Its Predecessors: A Long and Varied History". BLM. Retrieved 14 November 2014.
  21. "Mineral Leasing Act of 1920 As Amended" (PDF). BLM. Retrieved 14 November 2014.
  22. Wishart, David J. (Ed.). "Taylor Grazing Act". Encyclopedia of the Great Plains. University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Retrieved 14 November 2014.
  23. Elliott, Clayton R. (August 2010). Innovation in the U.S. Bureau of Land Management: Insights from Integrating Mule Deer Management with Oil and Gas Leasing (Masters Thesis). University of Montana. p. 45. Retrieved 14 November 2014.
  24. "O&C Sustained Yield Act: the Law, the Land, the Legacy" (PDF). Bureau of Land Management. Retrieved March 6, 2012.
  25. James, Muhn (September 1988). Opportunity and Challenge: The Story of BLM. Denver: BLM. p. 52. Retrieved 14 November 2014.
  26. James, Muhn (September 1988). Opportunity and Challenge: The Story of BLM. Denver: BLM. pp. 160–172. Retrieved 14 November 2014.
  27. James, Muhn (September 1988). Opportunity and Challenge: The Story of BLM. Denver: BLM. pp. 104–106. Retrieved 14 November 2014.
  28. Elliott, Clayton R. (August 2010). Innovation in the U.S. Bureau of Land Management: Insights from Integrating Mule Deer Management with Oil and Gas Leasing (Masters Thesis). University of Montana. pp. 5, 51–52. Retrieved 14 November 2014.
  29. "43 U.S. Code § 1702(c)". Legal Information Institute. Retrieved 14 November 2014.
  30. James R. Skillen, The Nation's Largest Landlord (2009)
  31. Mathew Barrett Gross (2002-02-13). "San Rafael Swell monument proposal could prove that Bush realizes the importance of a fair and public process". Headwaters News, University of Montana. Retrieved 2008-01-16.
  32. Davidson, Lee (Sep 27, 1996). "Orton's bill would erase power to declare permanent monument". Deseret News.
  33. Western States Data Public Land Acreage (Forest Service & BLM) from November 13, 2007
  34. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 "Fact Sheet on the BLM's Management of Livestock Grazing". BLM. Retrieved 16 November 2014.
  35. An AUM is the amount of forage needed to sustain one cow and her calf, one horse, or five sheep or goats for a month.
  36. "Oil and Gas". BLM. Retrieved 19 November 2014.
  37. "Mining Laws". BLM.
  38. 1 2 "Total Federal Coal Leases in Effect, Total Acres Under Lease, and Lease Sales by Fiscal Year Since 1990". BLM. Retrieved 16 November 2014.
  39. 1 2 "Senate Report 106-491 - OUTFITTER POLICY ACT OF 1999". https://www.congress.gov/. Library of Congress. Retrieved 15 November 2014. External link in |website= (help)
  40. 1 2 "PUBLIC LAND STATISTICS 2013 Volume 198" (PDF). BLM. Retrieved 15 November 2014.
  41. 1 2 "IntIntroduction: The California Desert Conservation Area (CDCA)". BLM. Retrieved 19 November 2014.
  42. 1 2 "BLM PUBLIC DOMAIN LANDS: Volume of Timber Offered for Sale Has Declined Substantially Since Fiscal Year 1990" (PDF). GAO. Retrieved 15 November 2014.
  43. "2014 National and State Fire Preparedness Program Summaries" (PDF). BLM. Retrieved 18 November 2014.
  44. "Mineral and Surface Acreage Managed by the BLM". BLM.
  45. 1 2 "Cadastral History". BLM. Retrieved 19 November 2014.
  46. 1 2 3 "Abandoned Mine Lands". BLM. Retrieved 19 November 2014.
  47. "Abandoned Mine Lands in the Department of the Interior" (PDF). Department of the Interior IG. Retrieved 19 November 2014.
  48. 1 2 3 US Department of Energy, Bureau of Land Management to Establish Renewable Energy Offices, January 21, 2009
  49. 1 2 Krule, Miriam. "Our Government May Be Shut Down, but at Least Our Helium Reserve Won't Be ... for Now". slate.com. Slate. Retrieved 2014-11-18.
  50. An Ode to Helium, by Gail Collins, New York Times, 4 May 2013
  51. 1 2 3 "Statement of Henri Bisson, Deputy Director Bureau of Land Management U.S. Department of the Interior Before the House Appropriations Committee Subcommittee on Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies Hearing on the FY 2009 Budget Request of the Bureau of Land Management February 27, 2008" (PDF). Department of the Interior. Retrieved 15 November 2014.
  52. 1 2 3 4 "National Landscape Conservation System". The Wilderness Society. Retrieved 18 November 2014.
  53. "H.R. 146 (111th): Omnibus Public Land Management Act of 2009". Govtrack.us. Retrieved 18 November 2014.
  54. "Resources and Statistics". BLM. Retrieved 18 November 2014.
  55. "BLM Law Enforcement: Protecting Public Land Resources" (PDF). BLM. Retrieved 16 November 2014.
  56. "FY 2015 BLM Green Book" (PDF). BLM. Retrieved 16 November 2014.<Page VII-135>
  57. "BLM Law Enforcement". Retrieved 16 November 2014.
  58. 1 2 3 4 "BLM Rangers". BLM. Retrieved 16 November 2014.
  59. 1 2 3 "BLM Special Agents". BLM. Retrieved 16 November 2014.
  60. 1 2 3 4 5 6 "Wild Horse and Burro Quick Facts". BLM. Retrieved 16 November 2014.
  61. Roberto, Iraola (Fall 2005). "The Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act of 1971". Environmental Law. Lewis & Clark Law School. 35: 1049–1079. Retrieved 16 November 2014.
  62. 1 2 Sterba, James P. "Revived Killing of Wild Horses for Pet Food Is Feared." New York Times. August 3, 1974.
  63. Using Science to Improve the BLM Wild Horse and Burro Program: A Way Forward (PDF). National Academy of Sciences. p. 16. Retrieved 16 November 2014.
  64. 1 2 Pitt, Kenneth. "The Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act: A Western Melodrama." Environmental Law. 15:503 at 528 (Spring 1985)
  65. 1 2 Glover, Kristen H. "Managing Wild Horses on Public Lands: Congressional Action and Agency Response." North Carolina Law Review. 79:1108 (May 2001).
  66. Raia, Pat (March 1, 2009). "BLM Horses: What's Their Future." The Horse. Accessed 2013-09-20.
  67. Friedman, Gabe (August 6, 2014). "Sun Land". The New Yorker. Retrieved 18 November 2014.
  68. 1 2 3 "BLM Fact Sheet: Renewable Energy: Solar" (PDF). BLM. Retrieved 18 November 2014.
  69. "New Energy for America". BLM. Retrieved 18 November 2014.
  70. "Wind Energy". BLM. Retrieved 18 November 2014.
  71. "RENEWABLE ENERGY: Agencies Have Taken Steps Aimed at Improving the Permitting Process for Development on Federal Lands" (PDF). GAO Reports. GAO-13-189: 6. January 2013. Retrieved 18 November 2014.
  72. 1 2 "Geothermal Energy". BLM. Retrieved 18 November 2014.
  73. 1 2 3 "Woody Biomass and Bioenergy". BLM. Retrieved 18 November 2014.
  74. "Historical Record of the Offices, Managers and Organizations of the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, Grazing Service, General Land Office and O & C Revested Lands Administration 1934-2012" (PDF). Public Lands Foundation. April 2012. p. 16.
  75. Johnson was the last Commissioner of the General Land Office (1933-1946)
  76. Retired end of May, 2012 "BLM Director Bob Abbey to Retire After 34 Years of Public Service". Department of Interior. 2012-05-10.

Further reading

External links

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