Identity Crisis: Bureau manages most federal lands - far from a household name

Upper Missouri River Breaks National Monument, Montana. Photo courtesy of Conservation System Alliance.

Coming from Argentina as an intern to The Wilderness Society, I was recently asked this question while getting familiar with the work: Do you know who is in charge of managing most of the federal lands in the United States?

Since I was being asked about federal lands, I figured it was the government who was in charge of this task and consequently thought of the National Park Service. To my surprise, I learned about another agency that’s also a part of the U.S Department of Interior — the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). Did you know that this 62-year-old agency is in charge of managing more than 258 million acres, about 40 percent of America’s federal lands?

The lands under BLM’s jurisdiction are a door to a whole different world…one filled with deserts, grasslands, forest, mountains and tundra. Located mostly in the west and in Alaska, they are home to more wildlife than any other federal agency. They also hold a great deal of American history and culture: hundreds of archeological discoveries are made every year.

But that’s not even the best part about the land the BLM manages. This marvelous collection of must-see sites is out there for us to enjoy. It offers all kinds of recreational activities — from hiking and bird watching to fishing, rafting, rock-climbing and hunting.

As exciting and perfect as this might sound, the BLM is constantly challenged by the threats facing these lands. Uncontrolled and irresponsible use of off-road vehicles is damaging streams and ripping up land. Moreover, the rising price of many minerals has initiated a rush among mining companies to get a piece of the pie. And, of course, oil and gas drilling has exploded on BLM lands over the past eight years.

It’s imperative for us to protect these natural and historic resources. The Wilderness Society, I have seen, makes this a top priority. Over the years, TWS has developed a good working relationship with the bureau and worked with it to preserve our unspoiled open landscapes. We do that by:

  • Working to bring Congressional recognition to BLM’s new conservation system;
  • Ensuring that conservation plays an appropriate role in land-use plans;
  • Fighting irresponsible oil and gas leasing on the most sensitive, unspoiled BLM lands.

Even though this agency may not be well known by most Americans, the Bureau of Land Management is highly important for TWS and for the country. Working together to protect the vulnerable lands the bureau manages is the best way to guarantee that they will be there for future generations to enjoy.