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Federal Lands Managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the Forest Service: Issues for the 110th Congress

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Publication Date: January 2007

Publisher(s): Library of Congress. Congressional Research Service

Series: RL33792

Topic: Environment (Parks, nature reserves, and open spaces)


The 110th Congress is likely to consider issues related to the public lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the national forests managed by the Forest Service (FS). The Administration might also address issues through budgetary, regulatory, and other actions. Several key issues of likely congressional and administrative interest are covered here.

Energy Resources. The Energy Policy Act of 2005 affected energy development on federal lands. Significant new regulations have been written or are in progress in response, including on the federal oil, gas, and coal leasing programs and on application of environmental laws to certain energy-related agency actions.

Hardrock Mining. The General Mining Law of 1872 grants free access to individuals and corporations to prospect for minerals in open public domain lands, and allows them, upon making a discovery, to stake a claim on the deposit. A claim gives the holder the right to develop the minerals and apply for a "patent" to obtain full title of the land and minerals. A continuing issue is whether this law should be reformed, and if so, how to balance mineral development with competing land uses.

Roadless Areas in the National Forest System. The Clinton Administration issued rules to protect inventoried roadless areas in the national forests. Implementation of the rules was enjoined. The Bush Administration issued rules in May 2005 to supplant the Clinton rules and allow governors to petition for roadless area protections in their states. On September 19, 2006, a district court judge set aside the Bush rules and reinstated the Clinton rules; the decision has been appealed.

Wild Horses and Burros. Controversial changes to the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act of 1971 gave the agencies authority to sell certain old and unadoptable animals and removed the ban on selling wild horses and burros and their remains for commercial products. BLM has resumed animal sales with provisions to prevent their slaughter, and continues to dispose of animals through adoption and placement in long-term holding facilities.

Wilderness. Many wilderness recommendations for federal lands are pending. Questions persist about wilderness review and managing wilderness study areas (WSAs). Several areas were designated by the 109th Congress, but other bills were not enacted. Bills to designate wilderness areas are being introduced in the 110th Congress, and Congress may address wilderness review and WSA protection.

Wildfire Protection. President Bush's Healthy Forests Initiative, the Healthy Forests Restoration Act of 2003, and other provisions may help protect communities from wildfires by expediting fuel reduction. Some believe that more effort is needed; others fear that changes will increase timber sales and damage the environment. The 110th Congress may consider legislation on post-fire rehabilitation, oversee implementation of new authorities, and examine litigation over fuel treatments.