Who manages the West’s federal lands?

Written by Matthew Anderson

May 21, 2018

The federal government owns roughly 640 million acres – about 28 percent of the entire country – and nearly 90 percent of this land is located in the western United States. That means one out of every two acres in the West is owned and managed by the federal government.

Five federal land management agencies control the lion’s share of these public lands – significantly impacting environmental quality, local economies, and access to public lands across the West. Each agency plays a unique role in how it manages the lands entrusted to its care. Here is a basic introduction to these federal land management agencies:

1. The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) – Established in 1946, the BLM manages one in every 10 acres of land in the United States and approximately 30 percent of the nation’s mineral resources. The agency, which is part of the U.S. Department of the Interior, is directed to promote multiple uses of public lands – allowing for logging, grazing, recreation, renewable energy production, mining and a variety of other activities.

2. National Park Service (NPS) – The NPS, a bureau of the U.S. Department of the Interior, was entrusted with the care of our national parks, national monuments and other conservation and historical properties in 1916. With the help of volunteers and partners, they manage public lands that see more than 275 million visitors every year.

3. U.S. Forest Service (USFS) – The USFS is part of the Department of Agriculture. It manages 154 national forests and 20 grasslands in 43 states and Puerto Rico. Like the BLM, the Forest Service is charged with promoting multiple use of the lands it manages and is supposed to sustain the health, diversity and productivity of the nation’s forests.

4. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) – The FWS, a bureau of the Department of the Interior, manages 150 million acres consisting of 560 national wildlife refuges, thousands of small wetlands, and other special management areas. While its primary mission is to conserve wildlife and restore habitat, the agency does allow for other uses like grazing.

5. Department of Defense (DoD) – The DoD administers more than 30 million acres, consisting of military bases, training ranges and much more. The principal purpose of DoD lands, waters, airspace, and coastal resources is to train soldiers, test new technology and remain prepared for military action. These lands are closed to the public.

As federal land management and these agencies evolve, locals should become an integral part of the decision-making process. Local input and sensible public lands management are not mutually exclusive. In fact, when locals are included and their voices respected, we often get positive environmental outcomes that also meet the needs of those who know and love our public lands the most. A strong and mutually respectful relationship between locals and federal land managers is a target we can all agree on.

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