The Story of BLM
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To the uninitiated, the Bureau of Land Management is a bewildering array of programs. BLM manages a variety of resources, ranging from the more traditional resources of timber, range, and minerals, to exotics such as cultural resources and air quality. On any given day, a BLM employee might be found evaluating wildlife habitat in the morning, reviewing a report on the impact of off-road vehicles on archaeological sites that afternoon, and attending an evening public meeting on the construction of a power transmission line across public land.

BLM administers more than 270 million acres of public land, most of it in Alaska and the western states of Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, New Mexico, Nevada, Oregon, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming. The Bureau is also responsible for more than 570 million acres of federally owned minerals. In managing these lands, BLM is guided by the principles of multiple use and sustained yield and a recognized need to protect and enhance the natural and human environment.

Fulfilling this responsibility is difficult. There is intense competition for the public lands among user and interest groups with conflicting needs and philosophical positions on natural resource management: coal companies want to open mines, ranchers need grazing land, and environmentalists seek to preserve wilderness. The challenge to BLM is allocating public land resources in a manner that allows for each interest to enjoy the opportunities the public lands offer.

BLM uses professional resource management principles and standards in making resource allocation decisions. Conflicting laws and user group demands, however, significantly influence the decisionmaking process, thrusting the Bureau into the midst of controversy and making politics a fact of everyday life for the agency.

Many BLM employees decry the influence of politics. But politics has always been a part of the public land question. Political controversy gave birth to the public lands; politics has shaped the laws that govern their disposition and administration. Political controversy and influence will not disappear. Recognition of this is important if Bureau employees are to understand the role the agency plays and the important part they have in helping it carry out its mandates and responsibilities.

People are another factor that has significantly shaped BLM. It is people who make decisions and implement policies. BLM's creativity and innovation—its "can do" attitude—are traits the Bureau has become known for. "The resilience and dedication of Bureau personnel," in the words of natural resources professor Sally K. Fairfax, "is the BLM's major resource for future development."

BLM's people give substance and meaning to the agency. As employees, we need to know how past public land policies contributed to the land patterns and resource controversies that BLM deals with today—especially as we prepare for the opportunities and challenges of the future. That is the purpose of this book: to provide BLM employees and other readers with a sense of the agency and its mission.

This history is a brief overview. It explores the broad aspects of public land policy and the growth of BLM into a multiple use management agency. The first chapter deals with BLM's predecessor agencies, the General Land Office and Grazing Service; it outlines the policies by which the public lands were administered. The chapter also details the events that led to the creation of BLM. Chapter Two is concerned with BLM's early years. It explores the problems the new agency faced and how it worked toward assuring proper management of the public lands and building a professionally competent staff.

The third chapter deals with the BLM during the 1960s, when Secretary of the Interior Stewart Udall introduced new programs into the Bureau as part of America's "Third Conservation Wave." The chapter describes how the Classification and Multiple Use Act changed the Bureau and covers events up to the report of the Public Land Law Review Commission in 1970. The next chapter looks at passage and implementation of the National Environmental Policy Act and the Federal Land Policy and Management Act. The effects of other environmental legislation on BLM and its management of the public lands are also discussed. Chapter Five covers events in the 1980s, bringing us to the present.

There is no way two authors can capture the diversity and spirit of BLM. To broaden the book's coverage, employees and retirees throughout BLM have written articles on people, events, and offices that contributed to the Bureau's development. These articles are interspersed in each of the chapters where they relate to the text.

At the end of each chapter, readings on public land issues and topics are given. Most of these references are books which direct readers to additional sources.

In reading this history, we hope that you will find the book as interesting and enjoyable as we did in researching and writing it.

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Last Updated: 08-Sep-2008