The Story of BLM
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The Bureau of Land Management, 1946-1960

covered wagons

"I frankly say...that the very title of the bureau raises a very big question mark in my mind. It seems to me that the very purpose to be subserved is to change the historical policy of the United States from one of holding the public lands for transfer to ownership under private persons, to one of proprietary handling on the part of the United States government."

—U.S. Senator Guy Cordon, Oregon
Congressional Record, July 13, 1946

The Bureau of Land Management, 1946-1960

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) from 1946 to 1960 was an agency in search of an identity. The executive reorganization creating the Bureau simply merged the General Land Office (GLO) and Grazing Service. BLM had no new mandate, only the authorities and functions of its predecessors.

The first years found the agency struggling to survive. It was hindered in its organization effort and haunted by the Grazing Service's fee increase debacle. There was serious question as to whether the agency would survive.


In 1948, a new Director, Marion Clawson, brought life to BLM. Clawson laid the foundation for effective public land and resource management. BLM decentralized administrative and resource management functions, recognized resource interrelationships, and stressed the importance of land classification and planning to multiple use management.

Clawson was succeeded in 1953 by Edward Woozley. The new Director's conservation philosophy differed from that held by Clawson, but the basic thrust of better management through decentralization and multiple use development remained. By the end of Woozley's 8-year tenure, BLM had matured into a professionally competent land managing agency.


The Bureau of Land Management came into being when the General Land Office and Grazing Service ceased to exist—the direct result of the Reorganization Plan No.3 Act of 1946. To head the new agency, a Director was to be appointed by the Secretary of the Interior. Unlike predecessors in the GLO and Grazing Service, who were presidential appointees, the new agency chief was to be selected under the classified civil service system. Also to be appointed were an Associate Director and "so many Assistant Directors...as may be necessary."

Plan No. 3
Act of 1946

The Reorganization Plan, however, did not provide a mandate for the newly formed agency. BLM was simply placed under the Secretary of the Interior and "the functions of the General Land Office and Grazing Service...consolidated to form a new agency." The Bureau, therefore, had to continue administering the public lands using the outmoded and often conflicting mandates of the 3,500 laws passed during the previous 150 years. The major statute directing BLM activities was the Taylor Grazing Act, which provided for the administration of grazing "pending final disposition" of the public lands. 'This [was] hardly a firm basis," as natural resources professor Sally Fairfax points out, "for a comprehensive land planning management scheme."

No Mandate

Another problem facing the Bureau was the integration of the General Land Office and Grazing Service into one organization. BLM resulted from a merging of the oldest federal agency with one of the youngest—two agencies with different organizational structures and philosophies. GLO was centralized, with most authority placed with the commissioner; the Grazing Service was decentralized. The General Land Office handled a variety of resources, while the Grazing Service dealt primarily with range management. Creating a new organization out of these two agencies posed a challenge.

GLO and

BLM struggled in its first two years to simply survive. A new organizational structure was outlined, but attempts to put it in place were hindered by congressional opposition. The nightmare of the Grazing Service appropriations debacle also haunted the agency.

Fred W. Johnson, who had been Commissioner of the General Land Office, was selected by Secretary of the Interior J. A. Krug in 1946 to be the Bureau's temporary Director. Johnson was in poor health and did not promise to be an effective leader, but Krug undoubtedly felt selecting the Grazing Service's Clarence Forsling would only have continued congressional attacks. To assist Johnson, Krug turned again to the former GLO. He appointed Joel D. Wolfsohn, the former Assistant Commissioner who had directed GLO activities for Johnson, to be Acting Associate Director, and Thomas Havell, a long-time GLO employee having good relations with Capital Hill, to be temporary Assistant Director. To Wolfsohn and Havel would go the task of molding BLM into an agency.

BLM's First
BLM organizational structure in 1946

BLM's organization called not only for the integration of General Land Office and Grazing Service functions and personnel, but also for improved public land administration and public service through decentralized operations. A three-tiered organization was outlined which featured a Washington office headquarters and regional and district field offices. Headquarters arranged itself around the Bureau's major functions— range management, timber management, land and mineral adjudication, classification and planning, survey and engineering, and administrative services. The field offices were organized around the Grazing Service's district office system, as well as the GLO's Oregon and California (O&C) forestry offices and land and survey offices. With this type of organizational structure, the agency could maintain on-the-ground management of public lands and resources; public land users could get on-the-spot handling of administrative matters.


BLM regions in 1946

The key to BLM's proposed organization, however, was the regional offices. The Bureau of Land Management hoped, as director Johnson stated, to furnish "better service...through regionalized handling of cases...affording wider opportunity than ever before for resource development under prudent conservation safeguards." This meant delegating Washington office adjudication functions to regional administrators.

Seven regional offices were established, each responsible for more than one state. These were used in place of the single-state setup employed by the Grazing Service so that state political and economic interests could not dominate regional personnel. Congress, however, prevented the transfer of responsibilities from Washington, arguing that the Bureau's regional offices would strengthen bureaucratic control over public lands and user groups and hinder congressional oversight of the agency's actions. Therefore, in the Interior Appropriations Act of 1947, Congress banned the "transfer or removal of any function or duties...heretofore held and administered in [Washington]...unless specific approval [had] been given by Congress."

Opposition to

Congress addressed another major concern in the Appropriations Act. The very name of the agency—the Bureau of Land Management—aroused suspicion among some western politicians. They believed, as Senator Guy Cordon of Oregon did, that the agency's title implied abandoning the nation's long-held policy of transferring public lands to individuals and private interests in favor of a policy of federal retention and proprietorship. Congress, consequently, directed Bureau funds be used for the "disposal," as well as the management and protection of, public lands, something that had not been done in recent General Land Office and Grazing Service appropriations acts.

The Bureau's organizational efforts also suffered from the Grazing Service fee increase controversy. Congressional appropriation cuts gutted the range management program. With 86 personnel to oversee 150 million acres of grazing land, BLM could not effectively process grazing applications, monitor range conditions, prevent trespass, or build range improvements.

Solution to
Grazing Fee

The grazing district advisory boards, fearing a breakdown of order on the public range, stepped in. Using monies received from Taylor Grazing Act fees for range improvements, the advisory boards paid the salaries of BLM range employees. Having the advisory boards pay agency employee salaries put the Bureau in an awkward position. "In effect," as political scientist Phillip O. Foss notes, "the regulators were being supervised by those who were to be regulated." BLM needed to be independent if it was to perform its duties properly.

Secretary of the Interior Krug understood this. From talks with western livestock interests, he knew that ranchers would accept a slight grazing fee increase. To study the situation, Krug appointed California rancher Rex L. Nicholson. Nicholson concluded that BLM needed only 242 people to adequately manage the public range. He recommended increasing the grazing fee from 5 cents to 8 cents per animal unit month (AUM). Two cents were to go for range improvements, with the remaining 6 cents to be distributed between the states and the Federal treasury. The federal government's share of the fee covered 70 percent of range administration costs—those functions benefiting only users. The remaining 30 percent— programs of general public good—would be funded by Congress. The National Advisory Board Council accepted Nicholson's formula and, in 1947, Congress gave its approval to the grazing fee increase and distribution plan.


The plan, however, did not help BLM. Congress could not adequately fund programs not covered by grazing fees. This, and the fact that Nicholson's administrative cost estimates were too low, left the Bureau's range management program little better off than before.

Thus, the Bureau's beginnings were not auspicious. Its inability to implement an organizational structure and secure adequate funding made it ineffective. Secretary of the Interior Krug called BLM "one of the...worst run Bureaus" within his Department. Employee morale was low. Many employees, particularly in Washington, looked upon their work as simply a job, and few had a sense of dedication. The future looked bleak, but a new Director would soon turn the situation around.


The Bureau of Land Management was invigorated in 1948 with the appointment of a new Director. Western ranchers and congressional supporters did not feel Fred W. Johnson was sufficiently attuned to their needs and demands. Secretary of the Interior Krug agreed new leadership was needed but rejected suggestions of livestock interests for a new Director. He wanted someone who would be accepted by stockraisers, yet would exercise independence. He turned to Marion Clawson.

Search for

Clawson was BLM's regional administrator in San Francisco. He had joined BLM in 1946 after many years with the Department of Agriculture's Bureau of Agricultural Economics. A Nevadan, Clawson had an undergraduate degree in agricultural economics from the University of Nevada and a doctorate in economics from Harvard. He also understood the ranching business. His father had a small ranch in Nevada and his dissertation at Harvard had been on the economics of the western livestock industry.


Clawson did not think his work at BLM was challenging and was disheartened by the agency's inability to decentralize and secure adequate funding for its programs. He was searching for other work when Joel Wolfsohn, who was resigning, asked him if he wanted the Associate Director position with BLM. Clawson declined, commenting that he would not be able to accomplish anything unless he was Director. Soon afterwards, Interior Secretary Krug offered him the directorship.

The Secretary bluntly told Clawson that he considered the Bureau of Land Management to be poorly managed. Krug made it clear to Clawson that the agency needed new blood if change was to be made. Clawson had his mandate—to transform BLM.

Mandate for

Clawson's first task was to reorganize the Bureau. Assistant Director Thomas Havell had to go because of his "old GLO" attitude. So did the chiefs of most of the branches. Clawson replaced these people with individuals from outside BLM. For Assistant Director, and later Associate Director, he selected Roscoe Bell, who had worked many years in the Department of Agriculture. Clawson filled a number of other positions with people he had known in the Bureau of Agricultural Economics.

Director Clawson pursued decentralization. He believed strongly that decentralization was essential if BLM was to become effective, efficient, and responsive. Clawson convinced Congress in 1948 to remove most of its restrictions against delegating authority to the regional administrators. The next year, no restrictions were imposed; by the end of fiscal year 1949, 85 percent of the Bureau's adjudicative functions had been decentralized to the regional and district offices.

of BLM

Clawson's reorganization made Washington responsible for overall supervision and development of long-range management and conservation programs for the public lands. The Director's technical expertise rested with the Washington office's six branches, which he transformed into divisions and subdivided into other branches.

Beneath the Washington Office came the regions. Regional Administrators were directly responsible to the Director. The regions handled most case adjudications and developed the long-term plans for the public lands and resources within their jurisdictions. Regional staffs were organized along lines similar to those of the Washington Office and provided technical advice to district offices.

BLM organizational structure in 1950

BLM regions in 1950

by Marion Clawson

Marion Clawson
Marion Clawson (Jennifer Reese)

Editor's Note: Marion Clawson began his career with the Bureau of Agricultural Economics in 1929 after graduating from the University of Nevada, Reno, with a degree in agriculture. He moved to BLM in January 1947 as its first Regional Administrator in San Francisco. The following statement has been excerpted from a chapter about Clawson's BLM experience in his latest book, From Sagebrush to Sage—The Making of a Natural Resource Economist (Washington, DC, Ana Publications; 1987).

The five years from March 1948 to April 1953 when I was Director of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) was the most exciting, rewarding and sometimes frustrating period in my life. We had many interesting bureaucratic adventures, from surviving drastic cuts in our budget to obtaining BLM's first supplemental appropriations for range and forestry programs. My main contributions to the Bureau were to make its work more efficient and to decentralize its operations to regional and field offices.

In December 1947, Assistant Secretary Davidson asked me to come to Washington to discuss my becoming Associate Director of BLM. I replied that I was unwilling to consider the job, because real power in the Bureau lay with Tom Havell and this was a case where one had to be the unquestioned top officer or not take on any responsibility of top leadership.

I met with Secretary of the Interior Julius Krug and his Under Secretary for exactly 16 minutes and was offered the position of Director. After I accepted, Krug said that I would have to bring some new blood into the Bureau. I agreed, but then added that it was more important to get some old blood out, and he said, "It can be done." So that was my charter.

About noon on 4 March 1948, I was sworn in as Director of BLM. Within a month the House and Senate held budget hearings. In all my professional life I have never had a more difficult and strenuous time than the two hours or so I spent before the appropriations subcommittee in the Senate, when our appropriation request was under review. I was fighting to get funds restored to the levels we had asked, to save the regional offices (which I thought were basic), and to get permission to decentralize. I thought the latter was extremely important for a number of reasons: decentralization would put routine decisions nearer the land and the people they affected, it would put the same routing decisions in the hands of new people who were anxious to make a good showing, and it simply was inefficient to have paper constantly flowing from the field to Washington and back again.

In the end, we emerged as well as could be expected, given that a struggle was underway between a Congress of one party and a President of the other. As I recall, we got our requested funds with a provision that was immensely helpful to me—Washington office funds were cut and field funds were increased by the same amount. There was no prohibition against decentralization and our regional offices survived.

During the years I served as Director, the demand for nearly all natural resource commodities rose and this had a substantial impact on the public lands. Range management, soil and moisture conservation, oil and gas leasing, and O&C forest management were major programs during my tenure. The number and variety of applications for use of the public lands or for records about them never ceased to amaze me. For instance, we experienced a six-fold increase in applications for oil and gas leasing.

Our staff developed a new application form that greatly speeded the leasing process and prevented clever applicants or agents from tying up lands by filing slightly conflicting applications (thereby creating nearly cost-free options to lease the land), I can still recall the glee with which we and Assistant Secretary Davidson received outraged complaints from applicants that we had become too efficient and it was costing them money!

Appropriations are the lifeblood of every federal agency. Policy is as often made and/or implemented in decisions about appropriations as it is in decisions about substantive legislation. Two incidents produced breakthroughs in getting adequate funding for BLM.

The spread of a poisonous weed, halogeten, into various western grazing areas enabled us, with the approval of the Assistant Secretary, to obtain a supplemental appropriation to reseed depleted ranges—which was desirable irrespective of halogeten. In the end, we got something in excess of $2 million supplemental—and this at a time when our regular appropriation was around $6 million. With that, BLM launched a large-scale program of reseeding rangelands. This increase went into our "base" in all the other years I remained at BLM.

The other breakthrough concerned timber access roads in the O&C area of Oregon. The GLO and BLM never had appropriations to build access roads but were dependent upon timber purchasers building roads. This lack of roads often meant a greatly reduced competition and hence a much lower price for the timber sold.

One winter an unusually severe storm along the Oregon coast blew down a great deal of timber. In some of these areas an infestation of bugs was already killing live trees. These bugs could thrive even better on blowdown timber and from that base more aggressively infest stands of live trees. The solution was to harvest both blowdown and intermingled standing live trees, as rapidly as possible; and for this access roads were needed. We got a supplemental road-building appropriations of something between $2 and $3 million; this was the beginning of BLM's road-building in the O&C area.

In the area of communications, I utilized staff meetings as a major management tool. I started them early on because I genuinely wanted our divisions to know what was going on and I was convinced that an informed Director's staff meeting the last hour of the day on every Wednesday—the hour chosen so that people who talked too long held everyone to overtime. A newsletter was then distributed to all employees.

At this time I formulated my second law of administration: keep them galloping. If one can provide real leadership, develop goals and likely means of reaching those goals, and generally run both a tight and an innovative organization, there is much less time for petty gossiping and dilatory actions. I did my best to keep BLM galloping. As with the actual running of wild horses, a certain amount of whooping and hollering was necessary.

Four types of field offices operated beneath the regional level: district land offices, public survey offices, district grazing offices, and district forestry offices. Here BLM carried out most of its management, protection, and disposal activities. A manager headed each office and was accountable to the regulating Regional Administrator.

Clawson also gave BLM a sense of mission and purpose by instituting a "dynamic program for resource management." Key to this agenda was the concept of multiple use management. "Multiple use," according to Clawson, "is [a] system under which the same area of land is used simultaneously for two or more purposes, often by two or more different persons or groups." These uses could be complementary, or, as was most often the case, competitive with one another. Clawson thought multiple use management desirable and wanted it practiced on BLM-administered lands.

Multiple Use

Multiple use management offered BLM managers considerable opportunity and challenge. Land use decisions had to take into account not only the benefits and impacts of an activity but also their interactions with other activities. Managers now needed to know the resource values of the public lands under their jurisdiction. This required inventory and classification actions, so that the best and highest priority uses of public lands, along with the most advantageous land-tenure arrangements to promote them, could be determined.

Clawson emphasized land inventory and classification. The Taylor Grazing Act directed that lands in grazing districts be classified before disposal, and President Franklin D. Roosevelt's general withdrawal orders of 1934 and 1935 directed the same be done (except in Alaska) for public lands outside the grazing districts. The Grazing Service and General Land Office had inaugurated studies, but little of the public domain was inventoried and classified. The classification work generally responded to individual applications for land disposal, but case-by-case classifications did not give BLM managers an overall picture of an area's character and economics. This required more general classifications of larger areas.

Inventory and

Acres classified under Taylor Grazing Act authority

The Missouri River Basin Project, an interagency land inventory effort begun after World War II, helped facilitate the agency's gathering of resource data. BLM also inaugurated smaller area studies, usually small drainage basins where BLM had complex land and resource use problems to resolve. The data gathered was then, as Clawson noted, integrated into the development of long-term range plans "wherein all tenure, protection, rehabilitation, development, and use activities are properly and effectively balanced and implemented...initiated by BLM, rather than in response to uncoordinated private demands for public lands and resources."

Carrying out that objective required considerable coordination. Clawson wanted to address that need through what he called "area administration" to achieve better and cheaper management of the public lands. Area administration meant having in a district office all resource and technical specialists necessary for district managers to make informed, effective, and efficient land disposal and use decisions.


Clawson's "area administration" concept, which he introduced in the summer of 1952 and his emphasis on decentralization, land inventory and classification, along with other innovations, pushed BLM toward becoming a viable conservation and multiple resource agency. By the end of his tenure in 1953, range and timber lands were better administered, wildlife and recreation resources were given added attention, and the management of lands and minerals programs was improved.

BLM emblem introduced by Marion Clawson in 1953 illustrated the agency's development and management program


Clawson knew successful implementation of his conservation policy depended much on what BLM could accomplish on the public range. The lands needed improvement, and this could only be accomplished through better supervision and the institution of rangeland plans and programs. However, these required more employees and additional funding. Clawson knew that and attacked the problem head on.


The limited number of range management personnel threatened to forestal any attempts at improving the program. Nicholson's 1947 grazing proposal had stated that at least 242 personnel would be needed for BLM to carry out its Taylor Grazing Act responsibilities. Despite implementation of the 8-cent per AUM fee increase that Nicholson said was necessary to cover range administration costs, BLM in 1948 had little more than half the personnel (123) recommended. The following year the staff had climbed to 182, but by 1950 the number had dropped to 176.

BLM's grazing monitoring program, trespass enforcement efforts, and range condition studies were hampered. Clawson had to correct the situation if any progress was to be made. The 8-cent an AUM fee was simply not providing sufficient funding and an increase was obviously needed. He persuaded the National Advisory Board Council to raise the AUM fee by 4 cents so that he could increase his range management staff to 250 employees. In 1951, grazing district fees were raised to 12 cents per AUM, with 2 cents of the fee still going for construction of range improvements.

Grazing Fee

The fee increase allowed BLM to hire new employees, many of whom had college degrees in range management, and enabled the Bureau to intensify its range management and supervision efforts. Detection of grazing trespasses increased. Range resource inventories and surveys of dependent ranch properties were begun in all regions to facilitate adjudication of range use privileges. All of this helped BLM's efforts to stop deterioration of the public range.


Range inventory work was particularly important. Knowing the condition of public rangelands, BLM could take steps to prevent further range deterioration. District managers could reduce the number of livestock grazed, although stockraisers opposed these reductions and usually succeeded in stopping the grazing cuts. Range improvement and rehabilitation plans could be implemented. Fencing and water source development permitted livestock to be distributed in a manner that prevented overgrazing, while reseeding gave new life to depleted range.

BLM financed the construction of range improvements with the 2 cents received from the AUM fee assessed ranchers and from appropriations under the National Soil Conservation Act for soil erosion control projects. Ranchers and grazing advisory boards also contributed money, materials, and labor. BLM, however, could still do little more than maintain existing projects. Director Clawson in his 1951 report Rebuilding the Federal Range asked Congress for more funds, noting that more than 38,000 stock-watering improvements and 68,000 miles of fence, along with other items, needed to be constructed. However, Congress made no effort to provide the additional funding Clawson wanted.


Congress responded more favorably to BLM efforts to rehabilitate the range. The Director in his 1951 report on public range conditions noted that 22 million acres of public land needed revegetation. He was again unable to get direct funding for this effort, but he was indirectly successful by getting Congress to enact the Halogeton Control Act of 1952.

Halogeton is a weed poisonous to livestock that establishes itself on range in poor condition. The weed, however, can be controlled through maintenance and redevelopment of healthy ranges. The Halogeton Control Act sought to arrest Halogeton's rapid spread across the West and, consequently, provided BLM with badly needed range restoration funds.

Depletion and
the Halogeton

A. D. Brownfield, Chairman, National Advisory Board Council
Our Public Lands, October 1951

The range advisory boards of the Bureau of Land Management have proven in 15 or 16 years operation valuable adjuncts in the administration of the Taylor Grazing Act. The system was inaugurated by the first Director of Grazing with success...so much so, that Congress soon took notice of the good results, and by amendment to the act, made the provision for advisory boards permanent.

The Plan for selecting these advisors is in keeping with our traditional American way of choosing Government representatives—that is, by election—and thus had support from the beginning. At the outset, and in compliance with the law, in order to determine who would be allowed to vote, districts were set up in each State, and each livestock producer therein was allowed a vote for the advisors of his own districts.

Instituting the system by popular election allayed suspicion and facilitated cooperation by those users of the public range (or public domain) who had never known regulation, or considered any law necessary for their protection and guidance in the proper use of their fee lands and leased lands. It brought into the various local offices for assistance to the Secretary representative men from "the wide open spaces" better qualified to advise and recommend on proper division and use of the range, and furnish information on its past use by contending applicants, and the approximate carrying capacities of the range. It would have taken years of research and untold quantities of taxpayers' money to have gathered the information that was quickly furnished by these professionals of the range. Very little dissatisfaction has ever been registered against the system, proof of which lies in the fact that in all of the 10 Western States in which there are grazing districts, citizens of no one of these States have petitioned for a change to something different.

The method of administrative procedure was extremely simple and applicable to range use. All the range was first rated as to proper number of stock to be grazed, and seasons of use. Each applicant for a permit was required to furnish accurate information as to his owned or controlled land and water; he also had to state the numbers and class of livestock grazed on the public domain prior to the passage of the Taylor Act. Where reductions in numbers were found necessary to protect the range such reductions were on a prorated basis in community allotments. In individual allotments, reduction was made to fit the carrying capacity.

In the absence of basic data on range surveys, classification, topography, etc., these advisory board members furnished timely information until such work cold be started and completed (Much of which has not as yet been finished). Moreover, they serve as popular unpaid policemen for regulating grazing, trespassing, and other abuses. They also give information on necessary range improvement facilities—such as fences, wells, dams, reservoirs, stock trails, driveways, cooperative plans with State agencies, land exchanges, soil and moisture expenditures, and many other programs.

Decentralized government has made and kept America strong. There is no substitute for it. The same has proven true for good land management. Personal contact with the users of the range through the advisory board system has made "home rule" on the range work.


The Bureau's forestry program went through significant changes during the Clawson years. BLM introduced a new sales policy for the revested Oregon and California land grant lands in western Oregon that increased competition and laid the foundation for better management. It also inaugurated the management of public domain timberlands.

BLM found management of the O&C revested lands in western Oregon particularly challenging. When Marion Clawson became Director, the regional administrator in Portland, Walter Horning, who was formerly Chief of the General Land Office's O&C Administration, remained committed to a policy of achieving sustained-yield management for both O&C forests and private timberlands through cooperative agreements. The plan allowed private landowners to purchase stumpage rights to the intermixed O&C forest lands at appraised value and under 100-year cooperative agreements if they consented to follow sustained yield requirements developed by BLM.

The 100-year cooperative agreements plan, however, brought strong criticism. Many interests, particularly timber operators who did not own lands within the O&C area, felt the plan would give cooperators a monopoly. Revenues from O&C timber sales would decline, it was argued, and landowners would have no incentive to permit multiple use or implement good forestry practices. The protest, led by the Association of O&C counties, forced BLM to abandon Horning's plan in 1948.

O&C Policy

Director Clawson, as part of his 1948 reorganization effort, replaced Walter Horning with Dan Goldy. Goldy was an economist who had worked in the Interior Department on O&C matters. He felt that the timber operators within the O&C area had the monopoly. Goldy, fervently believing in competition and equal opportunity, developed a timber policy that would end the monopolistic and poor timber practices encouraged on adjoining private lands.

First, potential buyers had to be assured of access to BLM's O&C tracts. Most access roads within the area were privately built and controlled. The Bureau instituted a policy requiring the builders to give BLM and its timber purchasers reciprocal use of rights-of-way across adjacent private lands. BLM also sought to end its dependence on private access roads through construction of its own road system. This would not only give O&C timber purchasers access rights, but would also lead to better timber conservation practices because BLM could then build into areas of overripe or damaged timber in need of harvesting. The Bureau began building its road system in 1950. The following year, when extensive fires and wind storms damaged and downed more than 700 million board feet of timber, Director Clawson was able to get additional appropriations from Congress to build more roads into the affected areas.

New O&C

Policy further called for timber companies to submit suggestions as to what lands should be offered for sale during the following year. In consultation with the district O&C advisory boards, BLM then developed a sales plan based on these suggestions and informed prospective buyers months before auction.

The first competitive sales under the new policy came in 1950. The volume of sales jumped from 265 million board feet to nearly 396 million. During the following year, the volume sold remained the same as in 1950, but the price bid went from $4.8 million to $8.7 million.

O&C timber sales 1947-1960

O&C timber sale values

Other changes instituted during Clawson's tenure further enhanced BLM administration of O&C lands. The forestry staff in Oregon gave new emphasis to timber inventories. Inventories were essential to determine the amount of timber that could be cut. BLM began new inventories that not only calculated the volume of available timber but provided information on the age, quality, size, and the location of stands from roads and processors. The new data was used to develop management plans and helped BLM better determine how much timber could be sold each year on a sustained yield basis.

The most significant change, however, involved the O&C advisory boards. In 1948, the Department of the Interior and BLM reorganized the boards to promote broader public representation. Members now represented not only the timber industry, State of Oregon, and counties, but also labor, mining, agriculture, recreation, wildlife, and conservation groups. This action more closely reflected the multiple use character of O&C lands and gave BLM a broader management perspective.


BLM also developed a forest policy for public lands outside the O&C area. There were an estimated 3 million acres of commercial forest lands and 25 million acres of woodland, exclusive of Alaska, on public lands. Prior to 1947, BLM had no authority to manage these lands. It could only dispose of the lands or remove dead-and-down timber to reduce fire danger. The Materials Act of 1947 changed this, permitting BLM to sell timber from public lands.

BLM recognized public domain timber would not equal the volume or value of O&C timber, but because many of the stands were important to local economies, they too needed management. BLM, however, did not have foresters to oversee or administer these lands until 1949, when an increase in funding allowed BLM to place foresters in each regional office and a few grazing districts. Inventories subsequently began and sustained yield cutting plans were developed.


BLM also pushed forestry efforts in Alaska. The Territory had 125 million acres of public timberland. Stumpage from Alaska's public lands could be sold through the Act of May 14, 1898. The General Land Office's local land officers had handled timber sales until the responsibility was transferred in 1946 to the Alaskan Fire Control Service (AFCS). With the creation of the Bureau of Land Management, the AFCS became Alaska's Division of Forestry. Like the AFCS, it provided fire protection, controlled forest use, supervised timber sales, set up sustained yield forestry units, and encouraged new wood-using industries. The new Division, however, put more emphasis on timber inventory work.

Forestry in

Fire prevention and suppression was an integral part of BLM's timber and range management programs. When Clawson became Director, the Bureau's fire program had changed little from that of the General Land Office and the Grazing Service.

Fire suppression efforts under the GLO and Grazing Service largely depended on cooperative agreements with federal and state agencies and local protection organizations. Insufficient funds forced BLM to continue this practice on the nearly 6 million acres of forest land in California, Idaho, Montana, Minnesota, Arkansas, Washington, and Oregon.


In other areas, BLM used its grazing and forestry district personnel to develop a fire suppression organization. District fire crews were established and could be supplemented, during large fires, with personnel from other districts.

BLM Fire

To assist district crews, BLM in 1951 began purchasing 4-wheel-drive high-pressure pumper trucks. The vehicles, though few in number, quickly proved their value as two-person crews showed the pumpers' effectiveness in suppressing range fires. That same year, BLM also began installing high-frequency radio networks in an effort to decrease response time to fires and more effectively coordinate firefighting efforts.

In Alaska, the Bureau did what it could to maintain the small, but well organized Alaskan Fire Control Service it had inherited from the General Land Office. Firefighters in Alaska found themselves confronted with an increasing fire problem as settlement, tourism, and military activity increased after World War II. Fire control efforts, although hampered by Alaska's immense size and lack of access were aided by cooperative agreements with other federal departments and agencies. The U.S. Weather Bureau supplied forecasts and relayed emergencies, while military and Civil Aeronautics Authority aircraft aided in fire detection and the transportation of crews and equipment.

Protection in

The fire program's primary purpose was to protect forest and rangelands from damage and waste, but the program also benefited wildlife habitat. And the Taylor Grazing Act addressed the importance of wildlife on the public lands by opening grazing districts to hunting and fishing and allowing the Secretary of the Interior to work with state wildlife agencies in managing wildlife habitat.

The Grazing Service took wildlife habitat into consideration and permitted wildlife interests to play an active role in administering the grazing districts in New Mexico and Oregon. New Mexico stockraisers included one wildlife representative on their advisory boards. By 1939, all district boards had wildlife representatives. The Grazing Service also worked closely with state and federal wildlife officials and hunting and fishing groups.

Service Policy

BLM continued the Grazing Service policy toward wildlife. Wildlife habitat management was an important part of BLM's range program. District managers worked closely with their advisory board's wildlife representative and state officials in managing wildlife on public lands. Some states helped the Bureau in rangeland reseeding efforts, which increased forage for wildlife as well as for livestock.

Early BLM

Recreation was another important resource on public lands. The Recreation Act of 1926 provided for the transfer and lease of recreational lands to state, territorial, and local governments if they were not needed by the federal government.

Act of 1926

by Edwin Zaidlicz
Former Montana State Director

It was the bitterly cold winter of 1949 when I joined BLM by replacing the first professional forester in the northern half of Alaska at Fairbanks. The forestry program was truly embryonic and our first responsibility had to do with containing tundra fires and as need and time warranted, we processed fire wood permits.

Edwin Zaidlicz
Edwin "Moose" Zaidlicz in 1951. (Edwin Zaidlicz)

The Homestead Act was alive and well with our management authority and objective based on the land laws that encouraged land disposal. For a forester trained under the principle of long-term forest management under sustained uniform yield, a philosophical stress quickly developed. BLM appeared unready to accept long-term management of public land for any purpose.

I soon found myself at odds with the man in the fine office across the street—the Fairbanks Land Office manager. Until I, as the "cheechako stump jumper" arrived, his role as a "Fed" was time-honored and respected.

Then, during the next spring, Bob Robinson, our head forester in Anchorage, budgeted enough to hire three more foresters for Fairbanks.

Our "strange breed of cats" group had few regulations, no manuals other than those for fire and fiscal management and almost no direct supervision. Communications with Anchorage involved very slow mail, emergency air flights or our "Mukluk telegraph," a system of in-house war surplus radios.

Quickly we learned to use our own discretion rather than risk an undesirable and tardy decision from the south. We enjoyed a commonality of purpose, unlimited energy and enthusiasm, and an unavoidable need for creativity and innovation. State-of-the-art technical props included the radio, a Cessna 180 plane on floats or skis, a Polaroid Land camera and a handful of college textbooks. Undaunted, we "came out of the chute" by initiating

1) The first timber inventory of interior Alaska by sampling stands along the Yukon, Porcupine, Tanana and Chena rivers. Even then I squirmed at our audacity and possible sampling error. The Cessna and an outboard river boat served for transportation. Our aerial photography consisted of shots with hand-held cameras;

2) A small tree nursery and a post-treatment experiment. Dr. Harold Lutz, a forest soils authority from Yale and Dr. Ray Taylor, Chief of the USFS Alaskan Research station visited us. We proudly demonstrated our Rube Goldberg watering system. Dr. Taylor, a gentle and kindly man, expressed guarded admiration for our initiative and novel operation. Dr. Lutz, a crusty pragmatist, made a more objective observation— "Your Herculean efforts will perhaps retard the cause of scientific forestry 100 years;"

3) Having the full support of the Air Force and the use of their vast depot of heavy equipment to take charge of any threatening tundra fires, we did some dramatic improvisation. We dispersed eight D8 caterpillar tractors in two units under a "USFS one lick fire line approach." A serious fire was quickly controlled. We were then visited by Mr. Gustafson, Fire Chief of USFS in D.C. and Mr. Blackerby of the USFS Regional Office to study our "perma-frost fire control." Gustafson, clearly impressed, observed that our "fire trails could unquestionably be seen from the moon;"

4) In an effort to improve the stagnant economy of our District, we got involved with a troubled Swedish homesteader to gather and process birch tree sap—much as is done on maple trees. While the syrup proved quite tasty, our new industry never displaced firewood cutting or muskrat trapping;

5) During the winter of '50-'51, Bob Robinson initiated the first formal timber inventory to undergird a possible timber operation in Alaska's southern district on Windy Bay. Three foresters from Anchorage and I were flown into the tract by a WWII "Goose" piloted by Bob McCormick. We had a large double canvas tent, our personal gear, grub for 30 days and explicit instructions from Bob R. For emergency use we had a special surplus-parts radio. About the time McCormick waggled his wings in his departing flyover, we confirmed the radio didn't work.

After 5 weeks, we completed our field sampling and were returned to civilization. Living in continual snowstorms and howling winds with three unwashed companions in a tent that served for cooking and living was an unforgettable experience and gave me a new meaning for the term "cabin fever." I did learn that it is possible to respect and admire another sharing the same traumatic circumstance. It was there that I made a life-long friend of the legendary Jim Scott.

Perhaps the highlight of my forestry career in Alaska occurred in the fall of 1951 when I almost succeeded in putting my admirer, the Fairbanks Land Office Manager, in jail for a fire and game violation. The word of this "forestry action" quickly spread throughout Alaska and BLM. The manager was arraigned, fined and lost his game license. Shortly thereafter, he was actually promoted to a more desirable post in the States and I got the opportunity to transfer to the O & C in Roseburg, Oregon.

My vivid recollection of those adventurous days of early Alaskan forestry highlight impressions of vast untapped resources, immense distances, unparalleled natural beauty and the troubling insignificance of man's puny efforts to impact or manage any of the resources, especially timber and wildlife. Even our natural disasters were brutally intimidating; our 1951 Porcupine River fire burned 2 million acres in what seemed like a couple of days. To simply map the burn area took 5 hours of flight in a Cessna 180. We had to carry 5-gallon tins of fuel to gas up on shallow duck lakes.

Clearly the quality of humility in a neophyte forester is desirable and Mother Nature provides a dramatic setting in Alaska for developing it.

BLM's lack of legislative authority to provide recreational opportunities did not dampen the agency's interest or efforts in recreation. Some BLM resource programs benefited recreationists indirectly—such as wildlife habitat management and access road construction. The Bureau's land classification program identified many potential sites for acquisition under the Recreation Act of 1926. In some areas, district personnel built facilities, such as camp and picnic grounds, even though they did not have the authority to do so.

Lack of

The increasing public demand for recreational opportunities after World War II was furthered by the Small Tract Act of 1938. This law, as amended, provided for the sale or lease of tracts not exceeding 5 acres that were determined to be chiefly valuable for recreational, residential, business, or community site purposes. In 1949 there were nearly 7,500 Small Tract Act leases. Clawson commented that the Small Tract Act had become the law preferred by those seeking a home on the public domain. He was right. By 1952 the number of Small Tract Act leases had climbed to more than 25,000, and nearly 300 parcels had been sold for patent.

Small Tract

The Small Tract Act was indicative of public land activity after World War II. Homestead, Desert Land, and other types of entries increased sharply. Interest was particularly high among veterans, who received preference in making entries, but BLM had to deny many of the applications because the lands entered were not suited to agricultural development. As Director Clawson stressed, public land policy since the Taylor Grazing Act of 1934 looked to "the management and protection—and selective, rather than summary disposal—of the approximately 778 million acres of public domain and their resources in [the] continental United States and Alaska." Statements such as this did not dissuade potential settlers; the lure of the public lands was too strong.

War II Boom

Alaska experienced much of the boom. Thousands of military and civilian personnel sent to Alaska during World War II saw first-hand the opportunities Alaska had to offer, and many stayed to take advantage of the situation. Hundreds of others came after the war by way of the Alaska Highway, drawn by stories of the Territory's riches.

Alaska: Land
of Promise

Many who came to Alaska used the Homestead Law to acquire land; from 1946 to 1953 more than 3,300 such entries were made. Competing with the Homestead Law was the Small Tract Act. Extended to the Territory in 1945, Small Tract Act sites were used to acquire lands for homesites, weekend cabins, and businesses around Anchorage and Fairbanks. By 1953, 600 sites had been sold and nearly 2,500 tracts were under lease.

Settlement and development of Alaska, however, was retarded by the lack of survey. Surveys were needed to adjudicate applications for use and disposal of public lands, but at that time only 2.5 million acres, or 1 percent of the Territory, had been surveyed under the rectangular system. BLM made surveys a high priority, but appropriations during Clawson's tenure permitted little more than 100,000 acres to be surveyed.

New land case actions in Alaska 1950-1960

Land classification in Alaska was another important issue. BLM wanted orderly settlement and development for the Territory. The Bureau, however, had no general land classification mandate in Alaska, and so, the agency made do with the few authorities it did have.

Classifications required under the Small Tract Act were used to identify public lands values and control development around Anchorage, Fairbanks, and other Alaskan towns. The Alaska Public Sales Act of 1949 was also used to advantage. This law provided for the auction of 160-acre parcels of surveyed and unsurveyed lands to individuals and other interests who met certain criteria. Successful bidders were required to file a satisfactory plan of development for the tract and complete their project within 3 years or forfeit both the land and the money bid. In 1952, the Bureau, in cooperation with the Soil Conservation Service, launched a program of planned homestead development by identifying suitable lands and marking out farm units for prospective settlers.

Land applications were also increasing in the "Lower 48." The Bureau's decentralization of land case adjudication to the regional offices helped speed processing, but the crush of applications was overwhelming.

Lower 48

In response to the increasing backlog, BLM wrote new regulations to streamline the adjudication of cases. The Bureau also began developing a new land record system. Through a microfilming process, certain land records, such as patents, could be more easily used and more effectively preserved. BLM also created a Division of Lands from its adjudication and land planning divisions in 1951 in an effort to more effectively administer the lands program.

Director Clawson called for a congressional review of public land laws. He pointed out, like the General Land Office had before him, that many of the laws under which the Bureau operated were "to a large degree outmoded and incoherent" and in need of revision. However, Congress felt that the policies did not need substantial revision.


Development of federal minerals became increasingly important after World War II. Truman's Reorganization Plan No. 3 gave the Secretary of the Interior responsibility for all mineral activity on federal lands. The Bureau continued General Land Office functions by issuing leases and administering mining claims on the public lands. It also began overseeing the leasing of mineral estates acquired by the federal government with the passage of the Acquired Minerals Leasing Act in 1947.


Oil and gas activity best reflected the new surge of mineral activity on the public lands. Petroleum companies had increased their lease and exploration for oil and gas during World War II and continued this activity after 1945. A boom in activity, however, did not come until 1950. That year alone saw 16,000 noncompetitive leases filed compared to the 4,000-a-year average during World War II. In 1951, BLM created a Division of Minerals at Washington headquarters to better handle the resulting workload. This action came at the right time. In that same year, an unprecedented boom in petroleum leasing came with the discovery of oil in the Williston Basin in North Dakota and Montana. The resulting "black gold fever" caused the number of new oil and gas lease applications to jump to nearly 32,000 in fiscal year 1952.

Oil & Gas

Active Oil & Gas leases for public domain lands 1947-1960

Increased oil and gas leasing created many headaches for BLM, but the worst was the age-old problem of speculation and fraud. Through newspaper and magazine advertisements, oil and gas brokers appealed to the desire of people to get-rich-quick by offering to file 40-acre federal leases for them. "The practice," complained Director Clawson, "not only swamped land offices with thousands of applications, but retarded the orderly exploration for oil and gas." The Justice Department called the practices of the oil and gas brokers unethical but did not have sufficient evidence of misrepresentation to prosecute the filing firms. BLM did, however, try to end the problem by revising its regulations to prohibit the issuance of leases for less than 640 acres in areas outside producing units.

and Fraud

By 1953, Marion Clawson had transformed the Bureau of Land Management into a multiple resource agency. As Director, he had been able to institute reorganization and policy changes with little controversy. The Bureau under Clawson also strengthened many programs through better funding and the hiring of additional people. Clawson established a firm foundation upon which the Bureau's resource programs could build and the agency's developing multiple use ethic could grow. It was a commendable job, but his land management philosophy differed from that of the new Eisenhower Administration; he was forced to leave the Bureau of Land Management in 1953.


The Presidential election of 1952 swept Dwight Eisenhower and the Republican Party into the executive branch after a 20-year hiatus. Republicans were not hesitant in using their victory to reshape public land policy. They did not intend a wholesale dismantling of the conservation policies inaugurated by the Democrats, but they did seek to loosen the restrictions they felt Democratic conservation policy had placed in the way of private development of public lands and resources.

Gain the
White House

"Partnership" was the key word of the Eisenhower Administration's public lands policy. "The best national resources program for America," stated Eisenhower in his first State of the Union Address, "will not result from exclusive dependence on federal bureaucracy. It will involve a partnership of the states and local communities, private citizens and the federal government, all working together." Eisenhower selected Douglas McKay, Governor of Oregon, as his Secretary of the Interior. McKay was more blunt in expressing the new Administration's public lands policy. After taking his new job, he declared, "we're here in the saddle as an administration representing business and industry." To accomplish this, McKay emphasized reduced bureaucracy, greater states' rights, and a freer hand for private interests. The new Secretary wanted agency chiefs who adhered to this philosophy and in McKay's view, Marion Clawson was not such a man.


Clawson was viewed by the incoming Republicans as an advocate of central planning by government and as having the opinion that government could manage resources better than private interests. This led some Republicans to suspect Clawson of being a socialist. Clawson had to go; Secretary McKay asked the BLM Director to resign. Clawson refused, citing his civil service status required a reason for his removal. McKay found one: insubordination.


Marion Clawson was replaced in May 1953 by Edward Woozley. Woozley, the commissioner for state lands in Idaho, supported the Eisenhower Administration's States' rights platform and pro-business and industry stance. The Idahoan was also described by supporters as "capable, imaginative, and resolute." This was a man more to McKay's liking; however, Woozley did not meet the civil service requirements for Director and so had to serve as Bureau Administrator for the first year of his nearly 8-year tenure.


Among Woozley's first actions was the reorganization of BLM. He and Secretary McKay felt the Bureau was too centralized, even after Clawson's restructuring. A committee comprising three Departmental employees and three members of the public agreed with the assessment. They concluded that there remained "too great a concentration of operations in the Washington and regional offices."


Acting on the committee's recommendations, Washington headquarters was restricted to providing major policy direction to the field organization. The regional offices were reorganized into four Area Offices—not to be confused with Marion Clawson's "area administration" initiative—with Area Administrators having general administrative and supervisory responsibility over the activities within their jurisdictions.

Most of the former regional office responsibilities went to a new organizational level called State Offices (except Alaska). These became the highest level of operations and implementation in the field, taking on adjudicative, land classification, and other land and resource functions. The State Supervisors in these offices dealt with state officials within their jurisdiction and developed long-range resource management and disposal programs. Along with their resource staffs, the State Supervisors also provided advice and technical direction to the District Offices.

District Offices continued as the lowest organizational level. The District Land Offices maintained land status records and took applications for public lands and minerals. District Grazing and Forestry Offices handled applications for range use and timber cutting as well as other actions.

Woozley, like Clawson before him, felt this decentralization of responsibilities and functions would bring public land management and decisionmaking closer to the user level, thus increasing efficiency and lowering administrative costs. The reorganization was implemented in 1954, and BLM's structure changed very little during the remainder of Woozley's tenure.

Woozley saw BLM as a business manager and felt that "the full worth of the valuable resources on the public lands may be realized with a minimum expense to the taxpayer and that through careful cooperation with private enterprise, these lands can produce the products on which local, state, and national economy depend." This outlook would characterize the Woozley years.

BLM is a

BLM reorganization of 1954


When Woozley became Administrator, the range management program again became a center of controversy. The Republican Party Platform for the 1952 Presidential election had called for legislation that would better define the rights of public land users and protect those rights against administrative interference. In line with that pronouncement, Republican Congressman Wesley D'Ewart introduced legislation aimed at making the privilege of grazing on public lands a legal right by guaranteeing grazing use and providing for judicial review of administrative decisions.

Range Use

Conservationists immediately attacked the D'Ewart bill. Montana Senator James Murray called it "another monumental giveaway" measure. The Department of the Interior could not even support the bill, and the legislation, as well as an amended version in 1954, was defeated.

by Edward Woozley

Edward Woozley
Edward Woozley (Jennifer Reese)

Editor's Note: Edward Woozley came to BLM with the Eisenhower Administration in 1953 and helped shape Secretary of the Interior Douglas McKay's "Partnership in Conservation" policy. Woozley was suited to the challenge. He had been Idaho Land Commissioner and appraised land for the Idaho State Land Board and the Production Credit Corporation. In July 1960, Director Woozley wrote of the BLM's accomplishments in the years since his appointment.

We in the Bureau have been giving much thought to the future in recent months. Our look ahead certainly told us that there still remains much to be done in managing the Nation's resources. But the enormity of the job ahead shouldn't cause us to lose sight of some of the achievements we have made in the past. The last seven years have been impressive.

For FY 1953 Congress appropriated slightly more than $14 million. For the year just ending the figure will be closer to $34 million, and the figure will probably be higher next year, if the various receipts from which we get a share, come up to expectations.

Receipts too, give an idea of the growth that has been made. In 1953, the cumulative total of receipts by BLM and its predecessors over some 140 years reached the landmark figure of $1 billion. In the last seven years, that figure has been reached for the second time. In FY 1960 alone our receipts will be approximately $375 million.

Of course our growth cannot be measured in terms of money alone. In 1953, a new record was set when 626 million board feet of timber was cut on O & C lands. For this past year the cut will be approximately a billion board feet. In 1953, we closed about 60,000 cases in our lands and minerals adjudication processes. When the final figures are totaled for 1960, the number of cases closed will be close to 220,000. Our classification and investigation program in the same period will show a gain of 35 percent over the 23,306 cases closed in 1953. In our cadastral survey program the total number of acres surveyed each year is now approaching 2,000,000, an increase of about 16 percent over 1953. But the big jump comes in original surveys, where our present program calls for surveying more than twice the acreage surveyed in 1953.

Statistics tell only part of our story. The Bureau, for example, has supported and helped prepare innumerable pieces of legislation advancing the cause of conservation and resource management. The 1954 amendment to the Recreation and Public Purposes Act has provided a tool of increasing importance to the Bureau in meeting the Nation's increasing demand for resources devoted to recreation and leisure time activity. The Outer Continental Shelf Act, passed in August 1953, already has returned to the U. S. Treasury more than $434 million, with an additional $300 million held in escrow pending final determination of its distribution by the Supreme Court.

Another major legislative milestone was the passage in 1955 of Public Law 167, the most important piece of minerals legislation since the 1920 Mineral Leasing Act. Multiple use of surface resources, and the elimination of many serious conflicts between surface management and mining operations, became achievable realities as a result of the Bureau program developed under this law.

While legislation is behind some of the changes in the Bureau's activity, major importance must be attached to those non-legislative changes which also have been instituted. The concept of a unified and coordinated program of resource management based on state boundaries, was a major purpose of our 1954 reorganization and the increased effectiveness of operations within the various states has proven the value of that move.

Long range conservation programs tell a significant story of Bureau progress. The Bureau's reforestation program is a case in point. A comprehensive inventory in 1957 showed that more than 150,000 acres of western Oregon forest lands needed artificial reforesting. In that year the Bureau began a greatly accelerated forest land rehabilitation program and to date 75,000 acres have been planted. This program will place cutover and burned lands in production 5 to 20 years sooner than nature's normal processes.

Great strides have been made also in a variety of management activities. The deterioration of the public lands records through age and use threatened to make these vital records useless to future generations. Early recognition of this problem and the development of our long range records improvement project has enabled us to take an enormous step forward, in not only preserving them but putting them in a form that adds greatly to the clarity and ease of use.

Surveys of our land offices, our forestry programs, and the operation of our grazing districts have led to significant changes in the organization and management of our activities, thereby increasing their efficiency, and enhancing their ability to serve the public.

Speeded operations through automation have become increasingly significant in recent years. We now acquire forest inventory data through automatic data processing in Oregon; bills are automatically prepared from punched paper tape in Cheyenne; a robot typing machine prepares answers to correspondence in Los Angeles; and photocopy and other reproducing equipment enables us to prepare almost instantaneously, copies of records and maps, from originals or from microfilm.

Field techniques likewise have benefited from the adoption of new tools and equipment. The Bureau pioneered the program of fighting major fires in Alaska through airborne borate drops. Our engineering survey parties have achieved outstanding results through the use of helicopters, photogrammetry, and tellurometric equipment, the first truly major changes in surveying techniques in more than a century.

In all, these have been eventful years. Progress hasn't always been as fast as we would like, but when we look back to where we have been, it is clear that we have made great strides. The road ahead looks more promising today than ever before. When we recall the idea that "What's past is prologue," it can be said that the future looks very bright.

Woozley was sensitive to the debate on Capitol Hill and wanted to cool the controversy. Some ranchers complained that nearly half of them operated on public lands with only year-to-year leases; they wanted more secure tenures. Woozley addressed the problem by declaring it the Bureau's policy to give more than 90 percent of its range users 10-year grazing leases as fast as the necessary reappraisals of user leases would permit.

Woozley, therefore, made range adjudication the range management program's highest priority. BLM's range staff stepped up work on range condition inventories and the surveying of private ranch properties to determine carrying capacities and grazing use privileges. The work was slow because of the limited staff, but the Bureau moved ahead and made great strides in adjudicating range privileges.


Range inventory work near Dillon, Montana

The reappraisals led to controversy. BLM grazing district managers, with "hard and cold facts" in hand, often reduced range use to levels more compatible with the new carrying capacity determinations. Stockraisers did not like the cuts and resisted BLM's efforts to impose them. BLM, however, did what it could to work out the disagreements and was usually successful in reducing range use where it was needed.

Face-to-face dealings were important in these situations, but grazing district managers seldom had time to meet with each rancher individually. To overcome this problem in Idaho, State Supervisor J. Russell Penny began in 1957 to divide his grazing district offices into subunits. Each subunit was assigned to a "Division Manager" who was responsible for public relations and range management within his division. This forerunner to today's area manager concept was an unofficial innovation, but it worked well and helped ease the controversies that arose between BLM and ranchers.


BLM's range adjudication program was also aided by additional funding. The 12-cent AUM fee secured by Marion Clawson in 1951 was not sufficient to fund the range management program. Woozley felt that tying grazing fees to the cost of administration handicapped BLM management efforts. He therefore advocated that the range management program be funded largely from appropriations. However, he still wanted ranchers to pay a portion of this cost and felt it fair to tie the fee charged them to the price they received for their livestock at market.

Grazing Fees
Grazing Fees 1936-1960
Taylor Grazing Act Lands
YearsAnimal Unit Month Fee ($)

He approached the National Advisory Board Council with the idea in early 1954. The group, after some months, agreed to the new grazing formula. The new fee would vary with the average price paid per pound for cattle and sheep in the eleven western states. Twenty-five percent of the fee was to go for range improvements.

The fee for 1955, based on 1954 livestock prices, called for an increase from 12 cents to 18 cents per AUM. Director Woozley felt the 50 percent fee hike was too drastic and had the Secretary of the Interior agree to arbitrarily set the fee at 15 cents until 1957. Drought conditions in many parts of the West in 1957 delayed institution of the new grazing formula for another year. The fee for 1958, based on 1957 market prices, was 19 cents per AUM. In 1959 and 1960 the fee went up to 22 cents.

By 1960, BLM expressed satisfaction with its range management accomplishments. The Bureau had made some mistakes in adjudicating the range, which had led to misuse and overgrazing, but overall range condition trends looked good to the agency. Three-quarters of the range was considered to be in fair to excellent condition. Range studies concluded that 24 percent of the range was improving, while only 10 percent was declining.


Professionalism in the range management program had also improved, partially due to the hiring of college-educated range conservationists. The improved administration was most evident in BLM's adjudication of range privileges. "The adjudication process," contends political scientist Paul J. Culhane, "was the most important local level manifestation of the professional maturation of the BLM in the 1950s."


Forestry in the Bureau also went through important changes during these years. Woozley was impressed by the program's money-generating potential. In 1954, he commented that the "profit margin" of timber was proof that good forest management paid. As the O&C revested lands had the Bureau's most valuable timber stands, Woozley paid particular attention to the policy for those lands.

The Value of

Woozley was not keen on the competitive sales and rights-of-way program for the O&C. He regarded these policies as needless and controversial. The Director wanted to do away with both policies, but his efforts met with charges that BLM favored the big lumber companies. The outburst of protest led one BLM employee to remark that, while "the O&C lands are about 1 percent of the area managed by the [B]ureau...it seems like they cause 50 percent of our headaches." BLM, therefore, left both policies in place, although it did initiate some regulation changes.

O&C Policy

While Woozley was not able to change BLM's competitive bidding policy, he did effect other changes. BLM in the O&C worked toward more effective "grass roots" level administration for better and faster service to the logging industry. District foresters were given more timber sales authority and overall administration was improved with the introduction of "unit foresters." Unit foresters were responsible for the resources in a subdivision of a forest district office. Each unit forester was provided a small staff to help with timber management plans, engineering, and other jobs.

BLM eliminated marketing areas on the O&C. Marketing areas, an innovation introduced prior to the Bureau's creation, were designated zones where timber cut on the O&C had to be processed. The concept was intended to protect the local lumber industry from outside competition, but shifts in local and national economies and the lumber industry's changing technology made the need for marketing areas unnecessary.

BLM also altered timber management practices in response to county demands for increased annual allowable, sustained yield cuts. Restrictions limiting clear-cutting to 40-acre tracts so that new growth could be regenerated by natural seeding were abandoned, with larger area cuts and artificial regeneration methods being substituted. This allowed BLM to adjust the annual allowable cut from about 693 million board feet to more than 874 million. The agency also adopted new techniques for cruising and appraising timber by using computers.

On the public domain, Woozley continued to expand BLM's management of timber and woodland resources. Public timberlands were still subject to disposal after classification for their highest use. The Bureau tried unsuccessfully to obtain Congressional authority to withdraw these lands from entry but did at least get the Timber and Stone Law repealed in 1955. Despite the fact that these lands could be transferred to private ownership at any time, BLM recognized the importance of these lands to the economic well-being of many local communities and carefully protected and managed the timbered public lands still in its custody. "In that way," the Bureau argued, it could "assure that anyone who may acquire them will receive them in productive condition."


Timber production 1947-1960

BLM, therefore, continued the public domain timber inventories initiated under Clawson, and they proved enlightening. BLM found the extent of its public domain timber resources to be greater than originally thought. Through the use of annual forestry plans, BLM increased timber sales and accelerated reforestation efforts on these lands.

Forestry efforts also progressed in Alaska. BLM's 1955 Alaska Report estimated the territory's 125 million acres of forests and woodlands contained some 350 billion board feet of lumber. Because Bureau policy called for maximum multiple use, the protection and development of watersheds and timber resources, and protection against insects, disease, and fire, BLM increased its forest inventory and timber management planning in the territory.


The public domain timber program, like the range management program, was limited in what it could accomplish. In 1957, there were only 310 foresters supported by 100 nonprofessional and seasonal employees, and most were assigned to the O&C. A few forestry offices, like in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, were opened to administer public domain forests. However, most grazing districts, many having extensive and valuable stands of pinyon-juniper and scrub oak, continued to operate without foresters.


It was in the area of fire protection that BLM's forestry program in Alaska made its most notable gains. When Woozley became Director, Alaska's firefighting facilities and equipment consisted of military surplus material, with aircraft being the most important part of the firefighting arsenal. Airplanes gave fire crews mobility, enabling them to quickly reach fires far away from highways. The Bureau got three old Navy amphibian aircraft in 1953 and then supplemented them with three conventional planes to transport crews and equipment. These airplanes allowed BLM to expand its fire control efforts in the Alaskan interior.

Alaska Fire

BLM learned the limitations of its firefighting program in the territory when wildfires devastated Alaska in 1957. More than 400 fires burned close to 5 million acres. One fire, the Kuskokwin Fire, burned an area twice the size of Rhode Island. Damage to resources was put at more than $7.7 million.

BLM administered land burned 1947-1960

After the 1957 fire season, BLM worked hard to upgrade its Alaska fire program. Fire facilities were built at Fairbanks, McGrath, and Central in 1958, and six others were planned. The Bureau increased the number of fire weather stations. A fire rating system was developed and employed. Air patrols were sent into areas after lightning storms, and the use of aerial sodium borate drops, effective against small fires, was expanded. But the Bureau's highest priority was a smokejump installation in Fairbanks. In their first year of operation in 1959, BLM's 15 smokejumpers made 109 successful jumps, completely extinguishing 11 major fires.

BLM also improved firefighting efforts in the "Lower 48." The agency continued to contract fire protection for the 5 million acres of public domain forests that were too far away from its district offices. BLM also continued to install high-frequency radio networks in all the western states to enhance response time and to coordinate fire efforts. Pumper trucks became the backbone of grazing district firefighting arsenals because, with them, two-member crews could control 90 percent of the range fires. Aerial water drops further enhanced the effectiveness of the pumper trucks.

Lower 48 Fire

By 1960, the Bureau's fire response times had been reduced and fire suppression methods and equipment had been improved. Better training of firefighting crews further enhanced the increasing professionalism of BLM's firefighting program.

A tanker truck fighting a range fire in Idaho


The wildlife program continued to expand in importance during Woozley's tenure. The Bureau's basic policy toward wildlife was still concern for the habitat, and as Director Woozley explained in 1955, "The management of wildlife [was] strictly on a basis of cooperation between the BLM as the administrator of vast public land acreages, supporting large wildlife populations, and the respective states recognized as the owners of the wildlife."


BLM gave wildlife interests more influence. In 1955, the number of wildlife representatives on National Advisory Board Council was increased from one to three members. Five years later, nonprofit wildlife groups and organizations were allowed to nominate and influence selection of candidates for wildlife positions on each of the grazing district advisory boards. The nominees were referred to state fish and game officials and then appropriate BLM State Offices for consideration and approval.

on National

The range and forestry staffs became more involved in wildlife management. Many BLM employees participated in wildlife census work, game range studies, and other related work.

BLM Wildlife

Of the many wildlife issues that BLM managers faced, the migration of antelope proved the most controversial. National and local wildlife organizations expressed concern over how sheep-tight fencing in Montana and Wyoming was preventing free movement of antelope. BLM had to find a compromise that would protect the needs of ranchers, yet address the antelope migration problem. Several years later, it adopted a policy that would allow for fence construction in important wildlife habitat areas only after proper safeguards for wildlife had been made.


Wild horses also became an issue. When the Taylor Grazing Act began operation, free-roaming horses were seen as a nuisance. Horses are hard on rangeland, so large herds quickly overgrazed areas. The Grazing Service and ranchers wanted to eliminate the horses from grazing districts. During World War II, Secretary of the Interior Harold Ickes had more than 77,000 of the animals removed from the public lands to control their numbers but did not have the herds totally removed.

Wild Horse

In the late 1950s, free-roaming horses again became a problem. The public had become increasingly aware of the horses and believed they were wild descendents of the animals brought into the Southwest by the first Spanish explorers. The linage of these horses, however, only went back to animals abandoned earlier in the century when horse prices declined and their use on farms and in the military faded because of mechanization.

Wild horse groups wanted a national wild horse refuge, but BLM officials called the idea unrealistic because of the large areas the horses roamed. The Bureau did, however, support protection if the horses became faced with extinction and backed a law that prohibited roundups of abandoned horses and burros by airplanes and motor vehicles in an effort to prevent the cruel treatment of these animals.


As in the Clawson years, recreation continued to be an important facet of the range and forest land use. During Woozley's tenure, use of the public lands for hiking, camping, and other forms of recreation increased. Most of the recreational use was associated with hunting and fishing.


The Bureau recognized that "the need for additional lands for public recreation purposes [was] a critical national problem." So, in cooperation with the National Park Service, BLM began inventorying and identifying public lands to determine which should be set aside for recreational purposes.


Although the public lands had recreational potential, the Bureau had little authority to develop and manage recreation areas. With the few recreational responsibilities BLM was given by Congress, the Bureau sought to protect, improve, and facilitate recreational use.

In Alaska, the Public Works Act of 1949 allowed for development of recreational sites on public lands. This effort was furthered by a 1956 law permitting BLM to undertake direct development of recreational sites in the territory. By 1958, BLM had improved 47 sites and had identified 69 more projects. BLM, however, encouraged the transfer of these sites to territorial and later to state agencies. In 1960, Secretary of the Interior Fred Seaton proposed that BLM be given authority to improve sites on other parts of the public domain.

Recreation in

The basic Bureau recreational authority remained the Recreation Act of 1926. In 1954, the law was amended to provide for the lease and sale of public lands determined valuable for public purposes such as waste disposal sites, cemeteries, and municipal water storage to state and local governments and nonprofit associations and corporations. Applications for sites under the new Recreation and Public Purposes Act flooded BLM. The Bureau sold sites if the land had no multiple resource values and leased the sites if the land had such values.

R&PP Act of

The Bureau was able through the Recreation and Public Purposes Act to protect not only areas having recreation potential but also areas having historic values. BLM as early as 1953 became aware of increased vandalism to cultural resource sites. District managers did their best to police sites and investigate incidents, but to little avail. BLM even tried to develop a management and protection program with the help of the National Park Service, but the effort did little to halt the destruction. The Recreation and Public Purposes Act, however, specifically provided for the transfer of cultural resource sites, thus allowing BLM to better protect these sites through transfers to the states.


The land hunger that followed World War II continued with new fervor after the election of President Eisenhower. In fiscal year 1953, more than 40,000 applications were filed and, the following year, entries increased by more than 50 percent.

Land Boom

Edward Woozley called the crush of applications "unprecedented", though this boom paled when compared to past land rushes. He attributed the marked increase to the nation's "high level of economic activity...particularly...those sections of the country where public lands make up a large part of the total land area." BLM also pointed out that higher land values, increased risk capital, and advances in technology made previously marginal and submarginal lands attractive for development.

The new Republican Administration also spurred activity. Republicans in Congress had long argued that the Department of the Interior under Presidents Franklin D. Roosevelt and Harry S. Truman had locked up the public lands. Eisenhower's first Secretary of the Interior, Douglas McKay, agreed and felt many public lands could be "more economically and satisfactorily administered" if transferred to state or private ownership. Such talk undoubtedly fueled the land rush, as speculators and others anticipated a great giveaway.

Giving away public lands, however, was not the intent of the new administration. Public lands with important multiple resource values were to be retained. Interior Department officials, however, felt that land case processing could be simplified and modified regulations to allow BLM to be more responsive and flexible when processing entries.

BLM Land

BLM continued the records improvement project initiated by Clawson. In 1955, the Bureau introduced the Master Title Plat and Historical Index system that remains the basis of the Bureau's land and mineral status records system today.

New Records

BLM surveying crews adopted use of electronic measuring devices in the late 1950s. (BLM)

The Bureau also strove to make more public lands and resources available for development and entry by revoking withdrawals. Withdrawals were reviewed to determine if they still fulfilled the purpose for which they were established and if the resource values could be protected by other management methods. BLM also got Congress to enact legislation prohibiting the military from securing public land withdrawals of more than 5,000 acres without Congressional authorization and permitting the Bureau to manage the resources within the military reserves. BLM was thus able to open up millions of acres of public land to entry and to prevent millions more from being withheld.

Making Land

Surveys were also important to the Interior Department's efforts to make lands available for use and development. Resurveys were vital in properly marking public land boundaries for lease or disposal. In addition, a significant amount of acreage in the "Lower 48" was unsurveyed. Fifteen percent of the western United States, excluding Alaska, had not been traversed by survey crews. These unsurveyed lands, often rugged, mountainous, or desert in character, were wanted by states to satisfy land grant selections. These lands, however, had timber and mineral values that could not be sold or leased until surveys were completed.

BLM also began using protracted survey sheets. Not intended to replace on-the-ground surveys, protraction diagrams showed section corners and lines of a township, as determined from aerial photographs and other information sources. With these diagrams, BLM could describe lease and disposal actions in unsurveyed areas by township subdivision rather than by complicated metes-and-bounds descriptions. The method was employed in Alaska with much success and, by 1960, more than 284 million acres had been placed on protracted diagrams. New Mexico, Arizona (of which 32 percent of the state was unsurveyed), and Montana also began using the sheets.


Since survey appropriations were inadequate to meet the demand, surveys had to be completed where demand was most urgent. BLM looked for ways to speed the process. The efficiency of crews improved with the use of helicopters to move surveyors and equipment. Electronic measuring devices were introduced and so was the use of photogrammetry, a method of employing photographs to determine height and distance.

by Tom Adler
Management Analyst, BLM Service Center

The Records Improvement Project (RIP) was a special program approved for the enhancement of the Land Office Records. In the process of doing a "Land Office Business," the land records kept by the Federal Government grew by leaps and bounds.

The process for tracking ownership of a piece of land soon became a monumental task. As the volume of information expanded, so did the space requirements to store these odd-shaped books and plats. The land office records were very cumbersome to handle, difficult to read, and only available at selected locations.

To research a case, a person would have to find the proper books, and/or plats, remove them from the storage shelves and find a vacant table to open them on. The documents for one case often required the entire table top. The researchers soon found themselves with over 10 million records to sift through in order to find their required information.

In the mid-1950s, the Bureau issued several contracts to correct the records problems: storage, readability, and retrieval of information. The first State to receive the "New Records System" was Utah, followed by New Mexico and Arizona.

The New Records System consisted of Master Title Plats (MTPs), Use Plats, and Historical Indexes (HIs). The MTP, a composite of approved Survey Plats for a Township replaced the GLO Plats. Use Plats, copies of the MTP showing specific use activity, replaced freehand mineral plats such as oil and gas leasing activity. The HI, a chronological list of all land transactions in a given Township, replaced the Tract Books. With this new system, users could find title and use data at a glance, that previously would have required hours of research.

This system has a master set of records (the working copy) which is updated daily by the Records section at each State Office and copies that are in the public room, District and Resource Area offices. Many other agencies also have a copy of these new records.

The process to create the new records required that each document be reviewed and abstracted to a standard form. The forms were then sorted into files by township and the information hand drafted to the new plats or typed on the HIs using special long carriage typewriters. The material used for the new records was reproducible and updatable.

Although this system is widely accepted and used today, in the late 50s times were tough. The existing contractor went broke and no one was willing to take over the task at hand. At this time, BLM established an in-house Records Improvement Project. The project goal was to continue to build the "New Records System" for other western states and Alaska.

The RIP Project Office varied from 50 to 150 employees, each with specialized title records skills, who moved from state to state, constructing the new records which were subsequently reviewed and accepted by the State Office. This was a 2- to 3-year process for each State.

California was the last state to receive the New Records System and in 1984, the RIP Project Office was closed.

The reality of Small Tract Act (BLM)

The demand for land after 1953 seemed insatiable. No matter how hard Bureau adjudicators worked, the backlog of cases grew each year. Between 1953 and 1960, the number of unclosed case increased from 25,000 to more than 45,000.

Land Case

One cause of the land boom was Small Tract Act applications. In 1954, the law was amended to include the sale or lease of parcels to corporations, associations, and state and local governments, as well as individuals. BLM praised the amendment for the flexibility it provided in disposing of areas for residential, business, recreation, and community purposes.

Small Tract

Land promoters were also responsible for the increase in applications. They appealed to Americans' desire to acquire land through newspaper and magazine advertisements across the nation. "Most people [who make filings]," Director Woozley pointed out, "imagine they'll get a cold stream, green grass, and all that. They are more likely to end up with plain desert." But the applications came in and jumped from 13,000 in 1953 to 43,000 two years later.

The Desert Land Law was also troublesome. New technological innovations like the electric pump permitted more effective development of underground water sources. Low agricultural commodity prices had kept interest in the law down, but, with improving prices in the late 1950s, entries rose sharply. Desert Land Law cases went from 1,300 in 1957 to nearly 4,000 the following year.

Desert Land

The heightened demand for public lands intensified competition between applicants. Several applications were often filed for the same parcel of public land. Resolving these controversies, especially when tracts were wanted for different purposes, placed heavy demands on BLM.

New land case action 1950-1960

Land classification helped resolve many of the conflicts, especially where demand was high. BLM used it as a means of controlling the growth and development of communities being created as a result of Small Tract Act activity. With the Desert Land Law, classification allowed BLM to determine whether the lands had good agricultural soils and sufficient water supplies. If they did not, applications could be rejected. BLM's land classification process resulted in the rejection of two-thirds of the Desert Land Law entries filed. The Bureau also imposed more stringent regulations and had land locators prosecuted for fraudulent and misleading advertising.


Land exchanges provided additional headaches. Woozley felt that land exchanges with states and individuals allowed public lands and resources to be more effectively utilized and managed. Exchanges benefited the Bureau by allowing it to put together more manageable land patterns. The Bureau, however, found that its exchange procedures failed to adequately protect public interests. Land speculators and others were able to acquire public lands through exchange at less than fair market value. To protect against this, in 1960 the Department instituted an antispeculation policy that ensured all land exchanges had a "clear and positive benefit" to the federal government and that the lands traded were of equal or near-equal value.


A less troublesome situation was the Bureau's disposal of public lands in the East. These lands were difficult to manage. Most were isolated tracts with little public value. BLM wanted to rid itself of the lands. The Bureau's Eastern States Office did so through state indemnity selections, color-of-title claims, and public sales.

Public Lands

In Alaska, the lands program emphasis shifted from the Small Tract Act and Homestead Law, which remained popular, to territorial and then state selections of public land. The first of the extensive land grants came in 1956. In the Alaska Mental Health Act, Congress provided the territory with a million acres to support mental health programs and facilities. The land selected had to be vacant, unappropriated, and unreserved and had to be used to support a mental health program for Alaska. Two years later, Alaska was admitted to the Union and a generous Congress granted the new state more than 103 million acres of public land.

The statehood grant lands posed a challenge for BLM. The agency knew that Alaska would select the best public lands from the standpoint of resources and economic development potential, curtailing many of the Bureau's plans for these lands. The situation, therefore, called for BLM to work closely with state officials to ensure orderly state land selections and public land resource development. Alaska officials began their selection of lands in 1959 and, by the next year, had selected nearly 6.5 million acres. In the years to follow, the State of Alaska's land selections would become one of the Bureau largest and more troublesome programs.

Alaska State

Developments in the minerals program mirrored those occurring in other resource areas. Under Woozley, BLM encouraged the exploration and development of both public domain and acquired mineral estates through private sector efforts. Minerals were an important source of revenue for the federal government. In 1953, of the $66.8 million BLM took in, $49.2 million came from royalties, rentals, and bonuses paid under the Mineral Leasing Act of 1920.


Most mineral revenues received in 1953 came from oil and gas leasing. Oil and natural gas had replaced coal as the nation's main energy fuel, and the increased consumption pushed petroleum companies to expand their exploration efforts. In 1953, Woozley reported 78,000 oil and gas leases covering 60 million acres of public domain and 2,000 leases covering 1.8 million acres of acquired lands. The figures rose by 1960 to more than 140,000 oil and gas leases on nearly 116 million acres of public domain and nearly 6,800 leases on close to 5 million acres of acquired lands.

Oil & Gas

by Curt Jones
State Director

Since the bulk of the BLM-administered public lands are located in the West, the Bureau's role in the 31 eastern states is hardly traditional. But, in addition to operating the largest land title business in the country through the General Land Office records, the Eastern States Office also deals with a broader variety of minerals and a more complex mix of mineral ownerships than any other office in the Bureau.

When BLM received operational responsibilities for Federal onshore minerals, the Eastern States Office (ESO), established in 1954, took on a presence in the field far beyond any previous one. Our mineral operations inspectors use boats and helicopters to reach oil and gas leases in the Louisiana bayous, check phosphate operations in the piney woods of Florida, travel miles through deep lead and zinc mines in the Missouri Ozarks, and monitor the environmental aspects of quartz mining in Arkansas. These field operations are managed out of our two District Offices established in 1983 in Jackson, Mississippi and Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

And since 1976, when Congress amended the Mineral Leasing Act to allow leasing within military installations, ESO issued oil and gas leases on nearly a dozen military areas and is exploring leasing potential on a number of others. Since these are all acquired lands, the leasing complexities are magnified.

The Eastern United States has become the primary marketing area for wild horse and burro adoptions. To support this effort, we have established distribution centers at Lewisberry, Pennsylvania, Cross Plains, Tennessee, and at London, Ohio. We hold around 30 adoption events annually, and it is not unusual for 150 or more animals to be adopted at a single event.

Wild horse adopter at BLM Distribution Center, Lewisberry, PA. (Denise Meridith)

ESO maintains close ties with state land and resource agencies, and with their umbrella organization, the Eastern Lands and Resources Council, which we helped establish in 1984. Through cases that require resurveys and/or site-specific legislation to clear up ownership issues of long standing, we are providing vital services to many Americans in the largest and most populous region of the United States.

Petroleum companies were particularly interested in Alaska's oil and gas potential. Much of this interest was prompted by BLM reports in 1953 indicating oil and gas on the Kenai Peninsula near Anchorage and at other locations.

Alaska's first discovery, however, did not come until 1957 at Swanson River on the Kenai Peninsula. Oil and gas leases in Alaska then jumped from 3,385 to more than 9,000. To handle the crush of lease applications, the BLM in Alaska had to temporarily assign people from other mineral programs, as well as from fire and forestry staffs, to help process the workload.

Alaska Oil

Alaska's first successful oil well—1957 (BLM)

Secretary of the Interior Fred Seaton further spurred activity by opening 20 million acres in northern Alaska previously closed to leasing. After this was done, leasing was resumed. In 1959, 16,000 acres of land adjacent to a known natural gas field were leased at competitive sale for more than $200,000. A year later, nearly 34 million acres of public lands in Alaska were under lease—more than for any other public land state.

BLM not only had the oil boom to contend with, but also the problems associated with speculation that had first surfaced during Clawson's tenure. By eliminating of 40-acre leases outside of producing areas, some of the problems had been solved, but leasing firms then turned to selling 40-acre assignments—subleases—of existing leases. More than 28,000 assignments were filed in 1958, causing the processing of new lease offers to slow down dramatically. BLM attempted to stop the practice, which was legal, with legislation prohibiting assignments of less than 160 acres. Since Congress took no action, the problem persisted for the remainder of Woozley's tenure.


Active oil & gas leases in Alaska 1947-1960

BLM under Woozley did resolve one problem associated with oil and gas leasing. As interest in obtaining oil and gas leases intensified, the public was competing more and more for leases that were cancelled, relinquished, or terminated. To ensure everyone would get a fair and equal chance to know about and obtain these leases, BLM in 1960 instituted a simultaneous filing system. The new procedure required all oil and gas leases that had been cancelled, relinquished, and terminated during one month to be publicly listed for 5 days the following month. Prospective lessees could then file applications for those tracts that interested them. Leases were then awarded by public drawing. This process became popularly known as the oil and gas lottery system.

Filing System

The real oil boom, however, was not on the public lands; it occurred off the nation's coastline. As early as 1865, the Surveyor General of California reported a petroleum spring on the ocean floor near San Luis Obispo. However, these petroleum reserves were not seriously developed until the 1930s. In that same decade, oil was discovered in the Gulf of Mexico near the Louisiana and Texas coasts.


The federal government and states argued over the ownership of the valuable offshore lands. The U.S. Supreme Court in 1947 sided with the federal government against California and, 3 years later, against Texas and Louisiana. States' rights advocates were incensed and sought support from the Republican Party in their bid to "return" the submerged lands to the states. With Eisenhower's election, Congress quit-claimed all the federal interest in tideland and seabed areas 3 miles from the coastline to the states.

The federal government, however, retained title to the area beyond the 3-mile limit. Known as the Outer Continental Shelf, this area was thought to have much of the 12.5-billion barrel oil potential attributed to offshore lands. BLM was assigned the responsibility for leasing this area through competitive sales, while the Geological Survey was to oversee prospecting and development.

Texas and Louisiana were considered to have the best oil and gas potential, so in 1954 BLM's Eastern States Office was directed to open an office in New Orleans. BLM then began taking nominations for tracts to be offered and put them up for bid. The bonus bids received for lease of the parcels exceeded $150 million—twice that of BLM's best expectations.

The Outer Continental Shelf quickly established itself as a moneymaker. In 1955 the first discovery off Louisiana produced 595 barrels a day. More impressive was the fact that leasing the Outer Continental Shelf brought in more than $252 million in bonus bids and rentals within the first year. All lease offerings were suspended in 1956 when Louisiana and the United States went to court to determine the 3-mile boundary between their jurisdictions. In 1959, BLM resumed leasing off the Florida coast. A year later, after the U.S. Supreme Court had ruled on the boundary issue, BLM also resumed leasing along the Louisiana and Texas coasts. Interest in the Outer Continental Shelf had not waned; BLM received more than $370 million for 1.2 million acres offered.

Enactment of new minerals legislation also occurred during the Woozley era. Multiple Mineral Development Act of 1954 provided for the location of mining claims under the General Mining Law and leasing under the Mineral Leasing Act on the same tract. Before the law was enacted, mining claims could not be staked on lands leased for oil and gas or other minerals, nor could mineral leases be issued for lands covered by valid mining claims. The new law permitted multiple development of minerals on the public lands.

Act of 1954

The Multiple Surface Use Act of 1955 restricted surface use rights on unpatented mining claims. The federal government could, after following detailed procedures intended to protect the interests of miners, classify and open surface resources on mining claims to Federally supervised grazing, timber cutting, and other uses. The 1955 law also provided for the disposal of sand, gravel, stone, and other common variety minerals through sale under the Materials Act of 1947. This removed these minerals from location under the General Mining Law of 1872 and made administration easier for the Bureau.

Surface Use
Act of 1955

As an outgrowth of its increasing resource management responsibilities and professionalism, the Bureau of Land Management began sharing its knowledge and expertise with other nations. The social and economic problems facing many countries, particularly those now known as the Third World, often resulted from the improper and unbalanced use, management, and distribution of land. BLM worked with many nations to alleviate these problems as part of the United States' foreign assistance program after World War II.

Third World

Beginning with Clawson during the Truman Administration, the Bureau began sending various technical experts to foreign lands and hosting their professionals in the United States. Director Woozley continued the program. By 1960, BLM had assisted Egypt, Paraguay, West Germany, the Philippines, and many other countries with cadastral survey, land classification, range and forestry administration, and many other land and resource management activities.


Near the close of the Eisenhower Administration, the Department of the Interior and the Bureau of Land Management began to work on an ambitious new conservation program for the public lands. The program called for intensified resource management to respond to the nation's growing population and increasing demands on natural resources. Resources would have to be conserved through more efficient use that would reduce waste and damage. The recycling and salvaging of resources would become more important.

In line with this thinking, the Interior Department sponsored a five point program aimed at accomplishing better conservation of the public lands and resources. Enacted by Congress in 1960, the Public Lands Administration Act called for (1) using forfeited timber deposits to rehabilitate lands ruined by defaulting timber contractors, (2) receiving sufficient deposits from users of BLM roads and trails to ensure proper maintenance, (3) charging more realistic fees for services rendered by BLM, (4) accepting donations for the improvement or management of public lands and resources, and (5) entering into cooperative agreements with others in order to carry out proper management of public lands and resources.


BLM at the same time proposed its own ambitious conservation program. The plan was called Project 2012. In sending the prospectus to the President, Secretary of the Interior Fred Seaton emphasized that the plan sought to meet the nation's "accepted goals of conservation, improvement, wise use and development of our public lands," while at the same time, contributing "toward meeting the challenge of our growing population and expanding economy."

Project 2012

Project 2012 was the Bureau's first attempt at a comprehensive, long range program for the public lands. It addressed the "orderly, efficient, and sound development and use of resources...through balanced, coordinated, and sustained effort" over a 50-year timeframe. The program was ambitious but unrealistic. As Bob Jones, a BLM employee who worked on the plan, recalls, "The primary legacy of [Project] 2012 was to create an internal awareness of possible long-range resource management program needs and dimensions along with a healthy skepticism of the value of 50-year detailed program projections." More important, as professor of natural resources Sally Fairfax points out, the Project 2012 report, though "unexceptional" in her opinion, reflected "the maturation of an increasingly professional BLM staff."


Project 2012 was quickly forgotten by BLM and the public. The agency's professionalism, however, did not disappear. The talent and skills developed during the 1950s continued on and were to be put to good use by a new administration with a "New Conservation" agenda.

Bureau of Land Management
Employees table
Budget table
Revenues table
Fred Johnson1946-1948
Marion Clawson1948-1953
Edward Woozley1953-1961
Materials Act1947
Outer Continental Shelf Act1953
Multiple Minerals Development Act1954
Multiple Surface Use Act1955


Historians have largely ignored the Bureau of Land Management. What little has been written has been by political scientists, economists, and natural resource management specialists.

General overviews of the 1950s that give some reference to BLM are Samuel T. Dana's and Sally K. Fairfax's, Forest and Range Policy: Its Development in the United States, Second Edition (1980), and Elmo Richardson's, Dams, Parks & Politics: Resource Development and Preservation in the Truman-Eisenhower Era (1973). Treatments that touch upon BLM in the early '50s are Charles McKinley's, Uncle Sam in the Pacific Northwest (1952), and E. Louise Peffer's, The Closing of the Public Domain: Disposal and Reservation Policies, 1900-50 (1951).

On BLM under Director Marion Clawson, see his "Reminiscences of the Bureau of Land Management, 1947-1953," in The Public Lands: Studies in the History of the Public Domain (1962) edited by Vernon Carstensen, and his autobiography, From Sagebrush to Sage: The Making of a Natural Resource Economist (1987). Marion Clawson's The Bureau of Land Management (1971) provides some background information.

Useful to understanding the early organization of BLM is Eugene D. Hart's, "The Field Organization of the Bureau of Land Management," Ph.D. dissertation, American University, 1957.

General studies of public land resource administration are Marion Clawson's and Burnell Held's, The Federal Lands: Their Use and Management (1957), and Marion Clawson, The Federal Land Since 1956: Recent Trends in Use and Management (1967).

Range policy is well handled in Wesley Calef's Private Grazing and Public Lands: Studies of the Local Management of the Taylor Grazing Act (1960), and J. Russell Penny's and Marion Clawson's, "Administration of Grazing Districts" in The Public Lands: Studies in the History of the Public Domain (1962) edited by Vernon Carstensen. Also of use are Phillip O. Foss, Politics and Grass: The Administration of Grazing on the Public Domain (1960), and William Voigt, Jr., Public Grazing Lands: Use and Misuse by Industry and Government (1976).

As to forestry, only the O&C lands have been adequately treated. On the O&C, refer to Elmo Richardson's, BLM's Billion-Dollar Checkerboard: Managing the O&C Lands (1980) and the The O&C Lands (1981) by the University of Oregon's Bureau of Governmental Research and Service. On BLM's development of a firefighting organization, see Stephen J. Pyne's comprehensive fire history, Fire in America: A Cultural History of Wildland and Rural Fire (1982).

Mineral policy and development is discussed in Robert Swenson's "Legal Aspects of Mineral Resources Exploitation" in Paul Wallace Gates' History of Public Land Law Development (1968), and Cad Mayer's and George Riley's, Public Domain—Private Dominion: A History of Public Mineral Policy in America (1985). On the issue of offshore oil and gas, refer to Ernest Bartley's, The Tidelands Controversy (1953) and Chapter 9 of William K. Wyant's Westward in Eden: The Public Lands and the Conservation Movement (1982).

On Alaska, see Hugh A. Johnson's and Harold T. Jorgenson's, The Land Resources of Alaska (1963), and 'Promised Land:' A History of Alaska's Selection of Its Congressional Land Grants (1987).

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Last Updated: 08-Sep-2008