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The Responsibilities and authority of the Bureau of Land Management

Updated on September 9, 2010


This agency was established in 1946 as a result of consolidating the General Land Office and the U.S. Grazing Service.  The functions of this office are enormous.  Basically this agency is responsible for the management and conservation of resources which amounts to about 245 million surface acres and 700 million acres of subsurface mineral estate.  Most of the public lands are located in the Western United States including Alaska.

     The revenue from public lands makes this agency one of the top revenue-generating agencies in the Federal government.  The responsibilities include the management of a large spectrum of natural resource value.  The scope and breath of the jurisdiction of this agency I found was through my research included many things which I did not realize was under this agency.  Some of the examples are discussed subsequent paragraphs below.  These do not include all of the natural resource management and administrative support services. This information is provided in the next few paragraphs.

     At the present time the amount of land under the jurisdiction of this agency may be in the process of changing.  Currently this agency is responsible for the management and conservation of resources on about 245 million surface acres and over 700 million acres of subsurface minerals estates.  The amount of this land represents 13 percent of the total land surface of the United States and more than 40 percent of all land managed by the Federal government.  These numbers are staggering. 

     Another fact about this bureau is that it administers more than 18,000 grazing permits and leases.  It is also responsible for fire protection on public lands. Some responsibility examples  are noted below:          


     Filming on public lands –  This agency is responsible for the approval of request to use public lands for the motion picture industry not only within the United States but other countries outside of the continental U.S.

     Hazardous Materials Management – This aspect while it seems to take some authority from the EPA the responsibilities are in relation to these types of materials on public lands.

     Mining and Minerals

     Fish, Wildlife and Plant Conservation

     Helium Program –


     Several of the legislation which has been enacted and falls under this agency for enforcement include:

      Endangered Species Act – This act was enacted in 1973

      General Mining Act

      The Wild Free and Roaming Horses and Burros Act

      National Environmental Policy Act

      Statehood Acts

      Alaska Specific laws –


Other regulations that are administered by this agency are noted below:


      Omnibus Public Land Management Act (Public Law 111-11)

      Federal land Policy and Management Act of 1976 (FLPMA)

      Mineral Leasing Act

      Federal Land Transfer Facilitation Act

      Taylor Grazing Act

      Cultural/Historic Protection and Preservation Acts

      Fee System for Commercial Filming Activities on Federal Land

      Statehood Acts


     As you can see this agency or bureau has a large responsibility over land owned by the Federal government.  The percentage of land under federal government control is significant not only in the percentage but in the millions of acres both surface and subsurface that it manages.  In the beginning I mentioned that there may be changes in the amount of land controlled by the federal government.  Currently there is discussion about locking up an additional 13 million acres of land and turn it into national monuments.  One question to be asked is what is considered to be a national monument.  The definition found on the Internet is that it is a natural landmark or a structure or site of historic interest set aside by a national government and maintained for public enjoyment or study.

     Declaring additional land to the tune of 13 million acres being considered for designation of a national monument is a big decision.  It would essentially lock up land from any private use or development.  Commercial activities on government land create jobs and tax revenue for states.  Taking this amount of land and placing it under the designation of a national monument would create additional financial constraints on the states affected by the area being considered.  It is important to point out that the declaration of land as a national monument does not need the consent of Congress as the authority comes through the Antiquities Act of 1906.

     I am not making a case for or against creating another national monument only that the decision and the process need to be examined.  This includes the purpose for the additional land.   Some may question whether the federal government can arbitrarily take land from the states based on the language in the Constitution.  Land has been designated national monuments in the past whether this new action being considered is similar to those of the past should also be examined.  While I agree Congress does not need to be consulted in this matter based on the authority identified above it would provide an avenue for input for any decision to be made.   The states also have a right to be involved in this decision with ample opportunity to provide input on the impact such action would have on their financial stability and economy.  It is important to set aside land for public use and I agree with the principle involved.  The question becomes whether the current amount of land controlled by the federal government is sufficient.  This should also be considered before a decision is made to add additional land.  I am not questioning the authority currently in place to make a designation for a national monument.  

     One last point to make is that the name of this bureau identifies the primary responsibility as land management.  What is surprising is that this bureau does not manage all of the land that is owned by the federal government.  The statistics identified above indicate there is a significant amount of land owned by the federal government that is not under the control and management of this bureau.  This is one fact that most people would assume that federal land is under the jurisdiction of this bureau.  When you have questions regarding federal land based on this information it is necessary to determine the management agency for the land.  It is not always the Bureau of Land Management.


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    • Dennis AuBuchon profile image

      Dennis AuBuchon 5 years ago

      Thanks for stopping buy and adding your comment. It is much appreciated.

    • Didge profile image

      Didge 5 years ago from Southern England

      Way to go Dennis AuBuchon :)