Which agency administers more public land than any other federal agency? Located within the U.S. Department of the Interior, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) administers more than 245 million surface acres (approximately one eighth of the nation’s land mass)—most of it in 12 western states, including Alaska—while also managing 700 million acres of sub-surface mineral real estate. Its mission is “to sustain the health, diversity, and productivity of America’s public lands for the use and enjoyment of present and future generations.” One of its key responsibilities is the issuance of leases for the extraction of oil, natural gas and minerals from beneath public lands.
The BLM’s roots go back to the Land Ordinance of 1785 and the Northwest Ordinance of 1787. In 1812, Congress established the General Land Office in the Department of the Treasury to oversee new federal lands. Following World War II, the federal government decided a new authority was needed to better manage public lands. In 1946, the U.S. Grazing Service was merged with the General Land Office to form the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). At that time there were more than 2,000 often conflicting laws for managing public lands, and BLM had no unified legislative mandate for three decades, until Congress enacted the Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976 (FLPMA). The BLM’s multiple-use mission, as set forth by FLPMA, mandates that the agency manage public land resources for a variety of uses—including energy development, livestock grazing, recreation and timber harvesting—while also protecting natural, cultural and historical resources. Many of these resources can be found in the BLM’s 27 million-acre National Landscape Conservation System, which includes 221 wilderness areas totaling 8.7 million acres as well as 16 national monuments comprising 4.8 million acres.
The agency currently has an annual budget of more than $1 billion and a workforce of about 10,000 full-time employees. It is one of a handful of federal agencies that generate more revenue than they spend. In FY2012, for example, it expected to generate nearly $5 billion from activities on BLM-managed lands, including an estimated $4.3 billion from onshore oil and gas development. About half of those revenues go to the states in which the leasing takes place.
Today, the BLM is focusing on the following priorities:
- The America’s Great Outdoors initiative, which is aimed at enhancing the conservation of BLM-managed lands and resources and reconnecting Americans to the outdoors;
- The New Energy Frontier, which encourages and facilitates renewable energy development—including solar, wind and geothermal power—on public lands;
- Cooperative Landscape Conservation, a scientific initiative that recognizes the need to better understand the condition of BLM-managed landscapes;
- Youth in the Great Outdoors, which supports programs and partnerships that engage youth in natural resource management and encourages young people and their families to visit, explore and learn about public lands; and
- Two interconnected initiatives to address climate change: a proposed landscape approach to land management and Rapid Ecoregional Assessments, which will improve the agency’s understanding of public land conditions to inform future management decisions.
BLM headquarters are located in Washington, D.C., at 1849 C Street NW; its National Operations Center is in Building 50 at the Denver Federal Center and its National Training Center is in Phoenix. The agency also maintains 12 state offices—in Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, Virginia (for all Eastern states) and Wyoming—and numerous district and field offices throughout those states as well as in Mississippi and Wisconsin.