Interior, Department of the

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INTERIOR, DEPARTMENT OF THE. The sixth department of cabinet rank, the U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI) was created 3 March 1849 to be the nation's principal conservation agency. Originally placed with the General Land Office, the Office of Indian Affairs, the Pension Office, and the Patent Office, it was reorganized by Reorganization Plan III of 1940, as amended. Since its creation, the department has been charged with a conflicting mission. One set of statutes stipulates it must develop the nation's lands and get natural resources such as trees, water, oil, and minerals out into the marketplace; another demands the conservation of these same resources. Since the president appoints the secretary of the interior, the compromise between these conflicting regulations is determined in part by whoever is in the Oval Office.

DOI serves as steward for approximately 436 million acres of public lands, which represent almost 19 percent of the nation's land surface and 66 percent of federally owned land. The department manages mineral development on 1.48 billion acres of the U.S. outer continental shelf. DOI also assists 556 tribes in managing 56 million acres of Indian trust land, and provides elementary and secondary education to over 50,000 Indian students. The department generates scientific information and assessments in a variety of areas: it monitors water quantity and quality, and helps local planners identify and deal with natural hazards, by earthquake monitoring and assessing environmental health and trends, for example. Millions of cultural and historic resources benefit from DOI protection. The department works to protect and recover imperiled plant and animal species, and helps to provide green space and recreation opportunities for urban America. Each year, the DOI hosts almost 290 million visitors to 379 national parks, 36 million visitors to 530 wildlife refuges, and 75 million visitors to public lands. The department manages dams and reservoirs, providing water to over 30 million people a year for municipal, agricultural, and industrial use, and generates enough power to make it the fifth largest energy utility in the seventeen western states.

The secretary of the interior heads the DOI, reporting directly to the president, and is responsible for the direction and supervision of all operations and activities of the department. The DOI is a large organization with multiple programs, which are administered by eight separate and distinct bureaus, including the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), the Minerals Management Service (MMS), the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement (OSM), the Bureau of Reclamation (BOR), the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), the National Park Service (NPS), and the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA).Four assistant secretaries assist the secretary and deputy secretary in over-seeing the eight bureaus.

The mission of the Bureau of Land Management is to sustain the health, diversity, and productivity of the public lands. The BLM operates on the principles of multiple use and sustained yield to manage public lands and resources, including energy and mineral resources, out-door recreation, rangelands, timber, and fish and wildlife habitats. The bureau manages 264 million acres of public lands, about one-eighth of the U.S. land mass, and about 370 million acres of subsurface mineral estate. It was established 16 July 1946 by the consolidation of the General Land Office (1812) and the Grazing Service (1934).

The Minerals Management Service manages the mineral resources (including oil and natural gas) on the outer continental shelf in an environmentally sound and safe manner and collects, verifies, and distributes mineral revenues from federal and Indian lands in a timely fashion. It collects revenues from offshore federal mineral leases and from onshore mineral leases on federal and Indian lands and disburses them to states, tribes, and the U.S. Treasury. The service collects more than 4 billion dollars each year from oil and gas leasing programs. The MMS was established on 19 January 1982 by secretarial order.

The Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement fulfills the requirements of the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act in cooperation with the states and tribes. The OSM ensures that surface coal mines are operated safely and in an environmentally sound manner; it also works to restore lands after they have been mined and mitigates the effects of past coal mining through the reclamation of abandoned mines. Each year the OSM reclaims over 10,000 acres of mined lands in its efforts to protect the environment. The office was established by the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act of 1977.

The Bureau of Reclamation manages, develops, and protects water and related resources in an environmentally and economically sound manner. The BOR manages dams, reservoirs, and irrigation facilities, supplying water for agriculture and communities in the West. The bureau is the second largest producer of hydroelectric power and the fifth largest electric utility in the nation. It is also the largest water wholesaler, supplying household, agricultural, and industrial water to one-third of the population in the seventeen western states. The BOR was established pursuant to the Reclamation Act of 1902.

The U.S. Geological Survey produces the scientific information necessary to make sound natural resource management decisions and provides information on the effects and risks of natural hazards such as earthquakes and volcanoes. The USGS also provides data on the status of the nation's natural resources, such as the quality and quantity of water resources. It is also the federal government's largest natural science and mapping agency, and as such, produces information that contributes to public and environmental health and safety. The USGS was established by the Organic Act of 3 March 1879.

The Fish and Wildlife Service manages the lands of the National Wildlife Refuge System with the primary goal of conserving and protecting fish, wildlife, plants, and their habitats. It administers the Endangered Species Act for all but certain marine species, and consults with other agencies to help recover protected species. In total, the service manages 530 national wildlife refuges and sixty-seven national fish hatcheries. The FWS was created in 1940 by Reorganization Plan III by the consolidation of the Bureau of Fisheries (1871) and the Bureau of Biological Survey (1885).

The National Park Service preserves the natural and cultural resources of the national parks. The NPS cooperates with other agencies to extend the benefits of natural and cultural resource conservation and outdoor recreation in the United States and throughout the world. The NPS manages 379 national parks, conserving, preserving, and protecting the nation's resources. It was established on 25 August 1916.

The Bureau of Indian Affairs fulfills its responsibilities to, and promotes self-determination on behalf of, American Indians and their tribal governments. The BIA provides an array of services comparable to most of those provided by county and local governments. The BIA was created in 1824 as part of the War Department and transferred to the DOI in 1849.


Babbitt, Bruce. "Science: Opening the Next Chapter of Conservation History." Science 267, no.5206 (1995): 1954.

Office of the Federal Register, National Archives and Records Administration. United States Government Manual. Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 2001–2002.

Mary AnneHansen

See alsoGeological Survey, U.S. ; Mines, U.S. Bureau of ; National Park System ; Reclamation .