The Bureau of Land Management manages more land than any other federal agency – about 245 million acres. Most of this land is in the West. The BLM’s mission is to sustain the health, productivity and diversity of America’s public lands for the enjoyment and use of present and future generations. The BLM accomplishes this through many programs. Below, you’ll find information on these programs and what each accomplishes.
Grazing: The public rangelands of the West were subjected to overgrazing during the era of homesteading, mainly because of two factors: a lack of understanding about the rangeland ecosystems and the policies in place to promote settling the region. The ranchers in the West asked Congress for help and as a result, the Taylor Grazing Act of 1934 was passed. Grazing districts were created and grazing was regulated. In 1946, the General Land Office and the Grazing Service combined to become the BLM.
Today, almost 18,000 leases and permits allow ranchers to graze their livestock on over 21,000 allotments managed by the BLM. In general, the leases are good for 10 years and are renewable. In 2014, the BLM received $12.1 million in grazing fees, which are shared with local and state governments.
Mining: The BLM has 290,000 mining claims on record and U.S. citizens or corporations can hold a mining claim or site. The claim prevents the government or other people from taking the land if a valuable mineral deposit is found. There are 19 states where mining sites or claims are located. There are laws in place that specify how a claim may be staked and recorded, including the General Mining Law of 1872. Specific requirements must be followed when mining the areas, such as having approval of an authorized federal official for permanent structure or temporary shelters such as fabric buildings that may be erected on the claims.
Coal Leases: The Mineral Leasing Act of 1920 and the Mineral Leasing Act for Acquired Lands of 1947 lay out the guidelines for the BLM’s responsibility on 570 million acres where coal development is allowed. The land might be controlled by federal agencies or private or state landowners. The BLM’s job is to make sure the development of coal resources is in the best interests of our country and in an environmentally sound manner. All money generated from a coal lease is split with the state where it’s located.
Recreation and Visitor Services: The BLM oversees 250 million acres of public lands where visitors can enjoy a multitude of outdoor activities, including camping, fishing, fish hatcheries, hunting, boating, horseback riding, climbing, winter sports and much more. There are many National Recreation Programs the BLM overseas, such as Cave and Karst Areas, Heritage Resources (which includes ghost towns and rock art panels) and River Recreation.
California Desert Conservation Area: This is an area in southern California of about 25 million acres. The BLM is responsible for overseeing about 10 million acres. The BLM spent about $8 million to create a plan that met Congress’ requirement for creating the CDCA and balanced the needs of miners, ranchers, utility companies and more. The plan developed by the BLM was widely endorsed and approved in 1980 and 1981.
Timberlands: The BLM manages 44 million acres of woodlands and 11 million acres of commercial forest. These lands can be found in 12 states. Fifty-three million acres are productive woodlands and forests located on public domain lands.
Firefighting: The BLM employs more than 3,000 firefighters in a number of work roles. These include engine, helicopter, hotshot and fuels crews, smokejumpers, wildland fire prevention and wildland fire dispatchers.
Mineral Rights on Indian Lands: The BLM manages mineral operations on 56 million acres of American Indian trust lands. The minerals in these lands are “leaseable.” In other words, individuals or companies pay royalties on the minerals that are removed from the land. The leases are tracked by the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the BLM.
Cadastral Surveys: These are the surveys that create and define the boundaries of public lands in the country. These are not scientific surveys. These are based on law and the ownership of land. The BLM is responsible for performing these surveys on all federal and Indian lands. These are the foundation for all land title records in the United States.
Abandoned Mines: Almost 46,000 abandoned mines and 85,000 features on public lands have been identified by the BLM. About 23 percent of these sites don’t require further action, have reclamations actions underway or planned or have been remediated. The remaining 80 percent or so need further investigation. The goal is to protect the public health and safety and restore the lands for recreation, wildlife, fish and resources.
Energy Corridors: The BLM processes applications for approximately 5,000 miles of energy corridors for electric transmission lines and pipelines that are located on property managed by the BLM. The BLM is now expediting permits for renewable energy projects.
Helium: The Federal Helium Program, which the BLM administers, is responsible for the sale and conservation of federally owned helium. Near Amarillo, Texas, a helium enrichment plant, storage reservoir and pipeline system supplies more than 40 percent of the country’s demand for helium. Currently, it holds over 1 billion cubic meters of helium gas. Under the terms of the Helium Stewardship Act of 2013, 300 MMcf was auctioned off from reserve in the fiscal year 2016, generating over $28.5 million.
Revenue and Fees: The revenue produced from the BLM is significant. Public lands generated around $6.2 billion in revenue in 2009. Almost 43.5 percent of this revenue goes to states and counties to support schools, roads and other community needs.
Wild Horse and Burro Program: In 10 states in the west, the BLM manages feral horses and burros under the Wild and Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act of 1971. Private individuals can adopt the animals, as long as they can show they can provide adequate care. The Adopt-a-Horse program once helped maintain acceptable herd levels, but as of 2014, there are almost 22,500 more horses and burros on BLM-managed land above the “appropriate management level.”