The Story of BLM
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Chronology of Significant Events


The Continental Congress declared the independence of the 13 colonies from Great Britain.

Maryland called upon the new states with claims to the territory west of the Appalachian Mountains to cede their titles to the United States for the common benefit of the nation. Virginia and other states with claims rejected Maryland's request.


Maryland refused to sign the Articles of Confederation until the states with claims to the western lands ceded their interests.


In an effort to appease Maryland and secure unanimous ratification of the Articles of Confederation, New York relinquished its interests to lands west of the Appalachian Mountains. Maryland signed the Articles of Confederation.

The Congress of the Confederation called upon all the states to relinquish their claims to the western country and pledged itself to administering the lands for the common benefit of the nation.


The Congress of the Confederation accepted New York's relinquishment of interest in the western lands.


Great Britain surrendered its interests to the lands south of the Great Lakes and east of the Mississippi River in Treaty of Paris.


Virginia ceded its land interests, except in Kentucky, to the United States.


The Congress of the Confederation enacted a Land Ordinance for the public lands northwest of the Ohio River. The law provided for the survey of public lands into townships 36 square miles in size. Lands were to be sold at no less than $1 an acre and in tracts no smaller than 640 acres.


Connecticut ceded its interests in western lands.


South Carolina relinquished its claim to the public domain.


The Constitution gave Congress the "Power to dispose of and make all needful Rules and Regulations respecting The Territory and other Property belonging to the United States."

Congress established the Treasury Department and gave it the responsibility of overseeing the sale of public lands.


The United States accepted North Carolina's relinquishment of title to lands beyond the Appalachian Mountains. The area of Tennessee was nominally considered part of the public domain, but the United States relinquished its interests to Tennessee in 1806 and 1846.


The first general land law since ratification of the Constitution substantially reenacted the Land Ordinance of 1785. The rectangular survey system was retained. Public lands could still be sold in tracts no smaller than 640 acres, and the minimum price was raised to $2 an acre.


The Land Law of 1800 reduced the size of tracts that could be sold to 320 acres and allowed purchasers up to 4 years to pay the amount bid.


Georgia ceded its interest in the area south of Tennessee to the United States.


The United States purchased from France the territory drained by the western tributaries of the Mississippi River. The Louisiana Purchase doubled the size of the young American republic.

Ohio entered the Union as first state carved from the public domain. The federal government retained title to public lands within Ohio's boundaries but gave the state Section 16 in each township to help promote the establishment of public schools.


The General Land Office was created on April 25. Headed by a commissioner, the new bureau was responsible for the survey and sale of public lands. The agency was placed within the Treasury Department.


The Convention of 1818 with Great Britain gave the United States the Red River Valley of the North.


A new land law significantly changed public land sale policy. Credit payments were abolished. Lands were sold in tracts no smaller then 80 acres and the minimum price was reduced to $1.25 an acre.


The Preemption Law provided for the preferential sale of 160 acres of public lands to actual settlers at the minimum price per acre.


Texas entered the Union but retained title to the unappropriated lands within its borders.


The Oregon Compromise with Great Britain put the boundary between Canada and America from the Rocky Mountains to the Pacific Ocean at the 49th Parallel. The Pacific Northwest—Washington, Oregon, Idaho, and western Montana—was made part of the public domain.


Under the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, Mexico ceded California and the Southwest to the United States.


The General Land Office was transferred to the new Department of the Interior.


The United States purchased the northwestern portion of Texas and added 75 million acres to the public domain.


The United States, through the Gadsden Purchase, acquired 19 million acres from Mexico.


The Homestead Law passed on May 20th gave settlers the right to enter 160 acres and receive title after 5 years of residence and cultivation.

Public lands were granted to the Union Pacific and Central Pacific Railroad Companies to aid construction of the nation's first transcontinental rail line.

The Morrill Law granted each state 30,000 acres of public land for each congressman and senator to fund establishment of agricultural and mechanical arts colleges.


The Lode Mining Law opened the public mineral lands to exploration and development. The law recognized local mining law and provided means for the patenting of mineral veins.


The United States purchased Alaska from Russia.


The Placer Mining Law provided for the patenting of placer mining claims.


The General Mining Law was enacted.

Yellowstone National Park established—the nation's first national park.


The Coal Lands Law permitted location and purchase of public lands chiefly valuable for coal.

The Timber Cultural Law was enacted by Congress to promote the growth of timber in the arid western United States. Law allowed entries of 160 acres.


The Desert Land Law provided for the reclamation of arid lands west of the 100th Meridian (except Colorado) through irrigation. Entries of 640 acres allowed.


The Timber and Stone Law provided for the entry and sale of 160 acres of timberland in California, Nevada, Washington, and Oregon.


Congress established the U.S. Geological Survey. One duty of the new agency was the "classification of the public lands and the Geological Structure, mineral resources and products of the national domain."

The first Public Lands Commission was authorized by Congress to study the public land laws and recommend changes.


Congress extended the provisions of the General Mining Law to Alaska but stated that no other public land laws applied.


The General Public Lands Reform Law repealed the Preemption and Timber Culture Laws. Desert Land Law entries were reduced to 320 acres and the law's provisions were extended to Colorado. Townsite Laws were extended to Alaska and the sale of sites for trade and manufacturing was authorized.

The General Public Lands Reform Law also authorized the President to create forest reserves from the public domain.


The Timber and Stone Law was extended to the remainder of public domain (except Alaska).


The Carey Land Law provided up to 1 million acres of public land to western states interested in sponsoring large-scale irrigation projects.


The administration of forest reserves was provided for by Congress. The General Land Office exercised this authority.


Congress extended the provisions of the Homestead Law to Alaska. Timber cutting and railroad rights-of-way provisions were also provided for Alaska.


The Coal Lands Law of 1873 was extended to Alaska.


The Reclamation Law provided for the federal construction of large-scale irrigation projects.


The second Public Lands Commission was appointed by President Theodore Roosevelt.


The Forest Service was established within Department of Agriculture to administer and manage forest reserves (renamed national forests in 1907).


The Antiquities Law provided for the preservation and protection of prehistoric, historic, and scientifically significant sites on public lands and the creation of national monuments.


The Enlarged Homestead Law of 1909 provided up to 320 acres of nonirrigable, semiarid land to homesteaders.

The United States began a policy of reserving coal in patents issued for Homestead and other nonmineral entries.


The Three-Year Homestead Law reduced the time settlers had to reside on and cultivate their entries from 5 to 3 years.


United States began reserving petroleum, natural gas, phosphate, and other minerals in patents issued under the Homestead and other nonmineral land laws.

The lease of coal deposits in Alaska was authorized.


The Stockraising Homestead Act allowed entries of 640 acres for lands determined to be chiefly valuable for grazing purposes. Patents issued under this law reserved all minerals to the United States.

Congress took back title to the Oregon and California Railroad Company land grant. The more than 2 million revested acres included some of the Nation's best timber. Administration of the lands was given to the General Land Office.

The National Park Service was created.


The Mineral Leasing Law provided for the exploration and development of coal, petroleum, natural gas, and other minerals by lease.


The Recreation Act allowed conveyance or lease of public lands valuable for recreational purposes to state and local governments.


The Mizpah-Pumpkin Creek Grazing District was established by Congress as an experiment in leasing public lands for grazing purposes.


President Herbert Hoover created the third commission to study public land issues. The commission recommended in 1931 that the public domain be granted to the states, but this proposal was rejected by Congress.


The Taylor Grazing Act provided for regulated grazing on the public lands (exclusive of Alaska) to improve range conditions and stabilize the western livestock industry. The law permitted 80 million acres to be placed into grazing districts. Administration of grazing districts went to the Division of Grazing (later renamed the Grazing Service). The General Land Office was responsible for administering grazing on public lands outside the districts.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt withdrew most public lands in the western United States for classification.


The Oregon and California Revested Lands Sustained Yield Act was passed to enhance the management of General Land Office administered timberlands in western Oregon.


The Oregon and California Revested Lands Administration was placed within the General Land Office to implement the O&C Revested Lands Sustained Yield Act.

The Small Tract Act provided for the sale or lease of tracts no larger than 5 acres for home and other purposes.


The Alaskan Fire Control Service was created within the General Land Office.


The Small Tract Act was extended to Alaska.


The Bureau of Land Management was created by the merger of the General Land Office and the Grazing Service in President Harry Truman's Reorganization Plan No. 3.

Fred W. Johnson was selected as the first BLM Director.


The Acquired Minerals Leasing Act provided for the lease of petroleum, natural gas, coal, and other minerals on lands purchased by the United States.

The Materials Act gave the Bureau of Land Management authority to dispose of timber and other resources.

The Nicholson Plan provided a scheme for funding BLM's range management program through a new grazing formula.


Marion Clawson became Director of the Bureau of Land Management.

BLM began decentralizing many management and decisionmaking responsibilities from Washington to its field offices.


Congress provided for the sale of public lands in Alaska.

BLM began to manage its public timberlands outside the O&C area and Alaska.


BLM inaugurated a new timber sales policy for O&C lands; the volume of timber sold and price received both rose.

BLM reported a need to improve public rangelands through massive range improvement and rehabilitation programs.

The discovery of oil in Montana and North Dakota sparked a rush to lease public lands for oil and gas exploration and production.


Edward Woozley was selected as BLM Director.

The Outer Continental Shelf Act gave the Secretary of the Interior authority to lease mineral lands more than 3 miles offshore.


The Recreation and Public Purposes Act amended the Recreation Act of 1926 to allow for the sale and lease of public lands for public purposes other than recreation.

The Multiple Mineral Development Act allowed for the development of locatable and leasable minerals on the same tract of public land.

BLM's reorganization resulted in the creation of the State Office system.


The Multiple Surface Development Act was passed to prevent the use of mining claims for nonmineral purposes. Federal land management agencies were allowed to administer the surface resources of all claims staked after passage of the law. On claims staked prior to the act, agencies could acquire management authority through legal means.

The Multiple Surface Use Act also specified that sand, gravel, and certain other minerals were no longer locatable under the General Mining Law of 1872 but were subject to disposal by sale under the Materials Act of 1947.

A new grazing fee formula was developed for public rangelands based on livestock commodity prices.

BLM estimated that Alaska public lands had 350 billion board feet of timber and called for better management of the resource.


An oil discovery in southern Alaska led to intensive petroleum exploration and development in Alaska.

Fires devastated Alaska. The Kuskokwin fire burned an area twice the size of Rhode Island.


Alaska was admitted to the Union and granted more than 100 million acres of public land.

BLM began to use smokejumpers to fight fires in Alaska.

The Wild Horse Protection Act prohibited the roundup of wild horses by aircraft and motor vehicles.


The Public Land Administration Act allowed BLM to use forfeited deposits to rehabilitate public timberlands, to accept donations for the improvement and management of public lands, and to enter into cooperative agreements with others to better manage the public domain and its resources.

BLM inaugurated Project 2012, a 50-year plan for improving the administration of the public domain.


The Kennedy Administration introduced the "Third Conservation Wave".

Karl Landstrom became Director.

BLM emphasized a nationwide inventory and classification program for public lands to determine needed land tenure adjustments and improve resource use and development.

BLM inaugurated Master Unit plans to better determine desirable land tenure arrangements before acting on land-use applications.

BLM issued its first recreation policy handbook. Prepared for Oregon, the policy called for the development of recreation sites on BLM-administered lands and led to the hiring of BLM's first recreational specialist.


Columbus Day windstorm in western Oregon destroyed 1.25 billion board feet of lumber on BLM-administered lands.


Charles Stoddard selected as Director.

BLM's Vale Project was initiated in western Oregon to demonstrate the value of managing not only livestock numbers on the public range but also grazing methods and land improvement methods.

BLM established service centers in Portland, Oregon, and Denver, Colorado, to centralize administrative functions and technical expertise.


The Public Land Law Review Commission was created by Congress to study the nation's public land laws and recommend changes.

The Classification and Multiple Use Act required BLM to determine which public lands should be retained in federal ownership and which should be disposed. The Act was to be in force only until the Public Land Law Review Commission issued its report.

The Public Land Sale Act gave BLM the authority to sell lands classified for disposal under the Classification and Multiple Use Act.

The Land and Water Conservation Fund was established to fund the acquisition of outdoor recreation areas.

The National Wilderness Act was enacted, but its provisions were not applied to BLM-administered lands.


The Water Quality Act established water quality standards for the nation.

The Water Resources Planning Act created a council to coordinate water resources work.

The Oil Shale Advisory Board reported to the Department of the Interior that the "national interest is best served by the immediate commencement of oil shale development."


Director Boyd Rasmussen appointed.

The National Historic Preservation Act expanded national cultural resources policy to protect prehistoric and historic properties of regional and local importance.

BLM officially established Resource Area Offices to provide better on-the-ground management of the public lands.


BLM designated its first recreation area, the Red Rocks Recreation Lands in southern Nevada, under the Classification and Multiple Use Act.


The Wild and Scenic Rivers Act provided for the preservation of free-flowing rivers. BLM administers portions of the Rogue River in Oregon, the Rio Grande in New Mexico, and several other rivers under this authority.

The National Trails System Act allowed for the establishment of a nationwide trails system.

Oil was discovered on Alaska's North Slope.

BLM established its first primitive areas in Arizona and Utah through the land classification process.

The "Johnny Horizon" program was initiated by BLM to promote public awareness of BLM-administered lands.


The BLM's first wild horse range was established in the Pryor Mountains along the Montana-Wyoming border.

The Boise Interagency Fire Center officially opened.


The National Environmental Policy Act made protection of the environment a national priority by requiring all federal agencies to assess the impacts of their actions on the environment and to mitigate adverse effects.

The Geothermal Steam Act provided for the leasing of geothermal energy on public lands.

Congress created the first National Conservation Area in the King Range of northern California to promote multiple use and sustained yield management of the area by BLM.

BLM implemented Management Framework Plans under its planning system to provide better consideration of social and economic factors when making management decisions.

Burt Silcock selected as Director.


The Public Land Law Review Commission issued its report, One-Third of the Nation's Land. The commission called for a revision of public land laws and policies to better meet the many demands being placed on the public lands.

The Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act resolved land claims of Alaska Natives. The Natives were provided 40 million acres and more than $962 million. The act also provided for the Interior Department to withhold 80 million acres of public land from Native and state selection for study as potential national parks, wildlife refuges, wild and scenic rivers, and national forests.

The Wild and Free Roaming Horse and Burro Act provided for protection and management of these animals on federal lands.

The Snake River Birds of Prey Area was established to protect valuable raptor nesting areas.

The Department of the Interior set aside National Recreation Lands on BLM lands in the California Desert.

Executive Order 11593 required federal agencies to inventory their lands to identify and protect significant cultural resource properties.


The Federal Advisory Committee Act required more effective use of advisory boards by federal agencies. BLM restructured its advisory boards to reflect a broader range of public user and interest groups.


Curt Berklund became BLM Director.

BLM lost a suit brought by the Natural Resources Defense Council on the adequacy of BLM's programmatic environmental impact statement (EIS) for the range management program. BLM was required to prepare EISs on more limited areas.

Congress declared the environmental study of the Trans-Alaska pipeline sufficient and approved project construction.

The Endangered Species Act provided for the protection of plants and animals facing extinction, as well as their habitats.


BLM's first automated land records system established in Alaska.


The Federal Land Policy and Management Act (FLPMA) passed. Congress established policy to retain the public lands under federal ownership, to inventory and identify their resources, and to provide for the multiple use and sustained yield management of public lands and resources through land use planning.

BLM inaugurated its nationwide Adopt-A-Horse program in an effort to resolve overcrowding of the public range by wild horses and burros.

BLM completed its first Habitat Management Plan for public lands in the Arizona Strip District.


Frank Gregg selected as BLM Director.

BLM developed Resource Management Plans to be prepared in conjunction with Environmental Impact Statements; the planning system also provided for more specific resource activity plans.


The Public Rangelands Improvement Act sought to improve range conditions on the public lands.

The Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act provided environmental safeguards for surface mining practices and ensured rehabilitation of mined areas.


The Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act set aside millions of acres of public land in Alaska as national parks, national wildlife refuges, and wild and scenic river areas.

BLM and the Forest Service proposed a "Jurisdictional Transfer Program" to consolidate lands and operations in an effort to increase management efficiency. The proposal was pursued under the Reagan Administration and came to be called the "BLM/FS Interchange." Congress, however, did not implement the proposal.

The Energy Security Act advocated alternative energy sources by promoting the development of oil shale, synthetic fuel, wind power, and geothermal sources.


Robert F. Burford was named BLM Director.


The Federal Oil and Gas Royalty Management Act strengthened inspection and enforcement of onshore oil and gas activity.

Minerals Management Service (MMS) created when the Conservation Division was removed from the U.S. Geological Survey. BLM transferred its responsibilities for the Outer Continental Shelf to MMS in February. All onshore mineral responsibilities, except royalty accounting, were transferred from MMS to BLM in December; the BLM-MMS merger was completed by early 1983.


Bear Trap Canyon in southwestern Montana was designated by Congress as BLM's first wilderness area. By 1988, 24 additional public land areas had been designated.


Homesteading officially came to an end with the closing of Alaska lands. FLPMA had repealed the Homestead Laws in the lower 48 states in 1976 but allowed homesteading to continue for another 10 years in Alaska.


The Federal Onshore Oil and Gas Leasing Reform Act changed the leasing of oil and gas to an all-competitive bid system.

Fish and Wildlife 2000, published by BLM as a strategic plan, emphasized the preservation and enhancement of ecosystems to ensure an "abundance and diversity of wildlife, fisheries, and plant resources on the public lands."


The Anasazi Heritage Center opened in southwestern Colorado. The Center serves as both a museum and a facility for the study and interpretation of prehistoric cultures in the region.

BLM released Recreation 2000, a long-range, strategic plan that outlines the Bureau's efforts to increase outdoor recreation opportunities on the public lands.

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Last Updated: 08-Sep-2008