The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is an agency within the United States Department of the Interior which administers America's public lands, totaling approximately 264 million acres (1,070,000 km²) or one-eighth of the landmass of the country. Most public lands are located in western states. With approximately 9,000 permanent employees, and over 1,000 more temporary, this works out to over 26,000 acres (105 km²) per employee. Its budget is nearly 1 billion dollars for 2007 ($3.5 per acre)($3.30 per person).
The BLM's stated mission is to sustain the health, diversity and productivity of the public lands for the use and enjoyment of present and future generations.
The BLM's pure 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, the United States Congress directed that they be explored, surveyed, and made available for settlement. In 1812, Congress established the General Land Office in the Department of the Treasury to oversee the disposition of these Federal lands. As the nineteenth 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 the Homesteading Laws and the Mining Law of 1872.
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 With the exception of the Mining Law of 1872 and the Desert Land Act of 1877 (which was amended), all have since been repealed or superseded by other statutes.
The late nineteenth 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 of their other resource values.
In the early twentieth 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 U.S. Grazing Service to manage the public rangelands. And the Oregon and California (O&C) Act of August 28, 1937, required sustained yield management of the timberlands in western Oregon.
In 1946, the Grazing Service was merged with the General Land Office (a product of the country's territorial expansion and the federal government's nineteenth-century homesteading policies) to form the Bureau of Land Management within the Department of the Interior. When the BLM was initially created, there were over 2,000 unrelated and often conflicting laws for managing the 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 used 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 offers visitors opportunities in the following areas: hunting, fishing, camping, hiking, boating, hang gliding, shooting, off-highway vehicle driving, mountain biking, birding, and visiting natural and cultural heritage sites. The BLM administers of fishable streams, 2.2 million acres (8,900 km²) of lakes and reservoirs, of floatable rivers, over 500 boating access points, 69 National Back Country Byways, and 300 Watchable Wildlife sites. The BLM also manages of National Scenic, Historic, and Recreational Trails, as well as thousands of miles of multiple use trails used by motorcyclists, hikers, equestrians, and mountain bikers.
Of BLM’s 261 million acres (1,060,000 km²), the Bureau manages 55 million acres (220,000 km²) of forests and woodlands, including 11 million acres (45,000 km²) of commercial forest and 44 million acres (180,000 km²) of woodlands within 11 western States and Alaska. Fifty-three million acres (210,000 km²) are productive forests and woodlands on Public Domain lands and 2.4 million acres (9,700 km²) are on Oregon and California Grant lands in western Oregon. Additionally, as part of its trust responsibility, the BLM oversees minerals operations on 56 million acres (230,000 km²) of Indian lands. The BLM also has a National Wild Horse and Burro Program in which it manages animals on public rangelands.
Increasingly, the BLM has had to address the needs of a growing and changing West. Ten of the 12 western States with significant proportions of BLM-managed lands have among the fastest rates of population growth in the United States.
One of the BLM's goals is to recognize the demands of public land users while addressing the needs of traditional user groups and working within smaller budgets. Perhaps one of the Bureau's greatest challenges is to develop more effective land management practices, while becoming more efficient at the same time.
The BLM has a wide range of responsibilities, including collecting geographic information, maintaining records of land ownership and mineral rights, conserving wilderness areas while allocating other areas for grazing and agriculture, and protecting cultural heritage sites on public land. The BLM operates the National Landscape Conservation System, which protects some U.S. National Monuments, some National Wild and Scenic Rivers, and some designated wildernesses among other types of areas including wilderness study areas.