Bureau of Land Management

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Bureau of Land Management


The Bureau of Land Management (BLM), a branch of the U.S. Department of the Interior, is a federal agency that is responsible for the management and conservation of 258 million surface acres or more than 40% of all federal land. It also administers 700 million acres of subsurface mineral estate throughout the nation. The BLM controls land that is mostly located in twelve western states. The agency manages such activities as outdoor recreation, livestock grazing, mineral development, and energy production while conserving natural, historical, and cultural resources. It is expected to maintain the health and productivity of the lands for the use and enjoyment of present and future generations.

Historical Background and Scientific Foundations

The Bureau of Land Management formed in 1946 with the merger of the General Land Office and the U.S. Grazing Service. The lands that it manages consist of grassland, forest, mountain, arctic tundra, and desert. The BLM is responsible for managing multiple uses of these lands including energy; minerals; timber; forage; recreation; wildland fire management, wild horse and burro herds; fish and wildlife habitat; wilderness areas; and archeological, paleontological, and historical sites. Funds generated from mineral leasing, timber, and other land usages make the BLM into one of the top revenue-generating agencies in the federal government. However, the bureau’s mission has been complicated by rapid population growth in this region along with increased demands for energy and water.

Policy changes by the administration of U.S. President Ronald Reagan in the 1980s gave western cattle ranchers increased control over water resources. The BLM stopped seeking a blanket federal claim to water on public land. Instead, it encouraged ranchers to file for private title, under state laws, to water from man-made stock-watering ponds and wells developed on public lands. Conservationists complained that the control of water rights gave effective control over the use of the surrounding rangeland. They warned that the government was harming its ability to manage public forage, water, and wildlife resources.

About 85% of the oil and gas on federal lands is available for leasing and development. As oil and gas development has increased, BLM staff levels have remained constant with the result that staff had too little time for field inspections. In 2005, the General Accounting Office reported that BLM offices in Colorado, Montana, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming had failed to keep up with environmental protections in five of the previous six years.

Impacts and Issues

The BLM has come under criticism from conservationists for prioritizing the extraction of oil and gas over the needs of wildlife. In 2003, the U.S. Senate defeated a plan to open the fragile landscape of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) to oil drilling. Opponents of the plan argued that drilling would damage 1.5 million acres of arctic tundra including polar bear dens, calving grounds for caribou, and the summer homes of migratory birds. Supporters of drilling expected that the resulting oil, estimated at 5.7 million barrels to 16 million barrels, would lessen American dependence on foreign fuel sources. The issue of drilling in ANWR is likely to be raised again as oil prices increase.

Much of the budget of the BLM goes toward combating invasive species. Although the agency has taken no position on bioengineered crops, it has opposed bio-


BIOENGINEERED CROP: Herbicide or insect-resistant plants developed through genetic engineering.

INVASIVE SPECIES: A non-native species whose introduction causes or is likely to cause economic or environmental harm or harm to human health.

engineered grass because of similar invasive control issues. Genetically modified versions of bentgrass, the type of grass popular on golf courses, have been developed by the turf company Scotts that are resistant to a common weed-killing chemical, Monsanto’s Roundup. If the grass escapes onto public land, the BLM would be unable to control it.

As demand increases for bioengineered plants, the BLM may have to devote more resources to this issue. The further spread of destructive invasive species, such as the ash-borer beetle, is also likely to remain a matter of concern.

See Also Conservation; Cultural Practices and Environmental Destruction; Forest Resources; Invasive Species; Land Use; Natural Resource Management



Dombeck, Michael P., Christopher A. Wood, and Jack E. Williams. From Conquest to Conservation: Our Public Lands Legacy. Washington, DC: Island Press, 2003.

Muhn, James. Opportunity and Challenge: The Story of the Bureau of Land Management. U.S. Department of Interior, Bureau of Land Management, 1988.

Web Sites

Bureau of Land Management. “About the Bureau of Land Management.” February 15, 2008. http://www.blm.gov/wo/st/en/info/About_BLM.html (accessed February 21, 2008).

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