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BLM History Complicates Agency's Responsibilities

Sun Advocate reporter

It can sometimes be difficult to differentiate the United States Bureau of Land Management from the U.S. Forest Service and the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources. But the BLM is a distinct government agencywith specific responsibilities and goals.

The DWR is more easily understood with its mission statement "to assure the future of protected wildlife for its intrinsic, scientific, educational and recreational values through protection, propagation, management, conservation and distribution throughout the state of Utah." However, it can be more of a challenge to separate the duties of the BLM from the duties of the U.S. Forest Service.

According Dr. Sally K. Fairfax in Opportunity and Challenge: The Story of BLM, putting too much emphasis on the similarities between the two can undermine the individual importance of the agencies.

"The familiar tale that the Forest Service manages the trees and the BLM manages the grass is not only not true, it obscures the fundamental difference in the resources managed by the two agencies," she commented. "The National Forests generally came to the agency unencumbered, reserved from the public domain prior to occupancy. The BLM, on the other hand, manages land which had a long history of private use prior to the belated assertion of federal authority in the 1930s."

That long history began for the BLM with the Land Ordinance of 1785 and the Northwest Ordinance of 1787, laws that addressed the survey and settlement of lands that were ceded to the Federal government by the original 13 colonies after the Independence War, according to the BLM office of public affairs.

In 1812, the General Land Office in the Department of the Treasury was established by Congress to oversee the disposition of additional Federal lands, which had been acquired from Spain, France and other countries. Congress would continue to encourage the settlement of newly acquired land in the west throughout the 19th century with the Homesteading Laws and Mining Laws of 1872.

According to the public affairs office, "these statutes served one of the major policy goals of the young country - settlement of the Western territories. With the exception of the Mining Law of 1872 and the Desert Land Act of 1877 (which was amended), all have since been repealed or superseded by other statutes."

Late in the 19th century, a shift in Federal land management priorities occurred when the first national parks, forests and wildlife refuges were created. Rather than promoting settlement on these lands, Congress decided that, due to its resource value, thelands should be held in public ownership. Congress took additional steps toward seeing that the assets on public lands would be managed with the Mineral Leasing Act of 1920. The act allowed leasing, exploration and production of selected commodities such as coal, oil, gas and sodium to take place on public lands.

According to the BLM office, the Taylor Grazing Act of 1934 established the U.S. Grazing Service to manage the public rangelands and the Oregon and California (O&C) Act of August 28, 1937 required sustained yield management of the timberlands in western Oregon.

It was from the Grazing Service and the General Land Office, which merged in 1946, that the Bureau of Land Management was formed within the Department of theInterior. The BLM office asserts that when the BLM was initially created, there were over 2,000 unrelated and often conflicting laws for managing the public lands. TheBLM had no unified legislative mandate until Congress enacted the Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976 (FLPMA).

"In FLPMA, Congress recognized the value of the remaining public lands by declaring that these lands would remain in public ownership. Congress also gave us the term multiple-use management, defined as "management of the public lands and their various resource values so that they are utilized in the combination that will best meet the present and future needs of the American people", stated the BLM office.

Today, under the regulations of FLPMA and the National Environment Policy Act (NEPA), the BLM manages approximately one-eighth of the land in the United States. The Price Field office alone manages 2.5 million surface acres and 2.8 subsurface mineral estate acres.

With the recent release of the draft Resource Management Plan (RMP), which combines the outdated San Rafael and Price River plans, the Price BLM office has been seeking public feedback during a 90-day comment period. The public comment period will last through Oct. 15.

"If you participate in any activity on public land, this greatly affects you because it could alter the way you do anything," pointed out Ruth McCoard, assistant planner for the Price office. "That's why we want public input because it affects all of us."

Understanding the authority and the constraints under which the organization operates, though, is essential to providing helpful feedback for the future of southeastern Utah lands.

"The American public values balanced use, conservation, environmental management, recreation and tourism. Public lands are increasingly viewed from the perspective of the recreational opportunities they offer, their cultural resources and, in an increasingly urban world, their vast open spaces," indicated the BLM office. "However, against this backdrop, the more traditional land uses of grazing, timber production and mining are still in high demand. The BLM's task is to recognize the demands of public land users while addressing the needs of traditional user groups and working within smaller budgets."

To learn more about the BLM, Carbon County residents with Internet access can visit the agency's website at Area residents may also access and comment upon the draft RMP at

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