Summary of Environmental Law in the United States
16. Environmental Management of Public Lands
See also Section 20: Forests
and Forest Management; Section 17: Conservation
of Biological Diversity and Wildlife; and Section 23: Military
or Federal Facilities
The federal government is the largest landowner in the United
States. Federal lands fall in several categories, each with a
different primary purpose and each governed by a different
institution. Major categories of public land include: national parks
and monuments, governed by the National Park Service (NPS); natural
resource or rangelands, governed by the Bureau of Land Management
(BLM); national forests, administered by the U.S. Forest Service
(USFS), See Section
20; national wildlife refuges, administered by the U.S. Fish and
Wildlife Service (USFWS), see Section
17.4; wild and scenic rivers, administered by each of the
agencies, See Section
9.7; wilderness areas designated within other public lands; and,
military lands, administered by the Department of Defense (DOD),
16.1 Institutions for Public Land Management
The Department of
Interior (DOI) manages most public lands, with the exception of
forest lands managed by the Department of Agriculture's USFS,
see Section 20: Forests
and Forest Management, and military lands operated by the DOD,
see Section 23: Military
or Federal Facilities Within the DOI, the major land management
agencies include the BLM, the NPS, and the USFWS.
Bureau of Land
Management. BLM administers about 272 million acres of
public rangelands located primarily in the western states.
National Park Service.
The NPS manages all national parks and national monuments according
to the goals and standards set forth in the legislation creating the
specific park or the regulation creating the specific monument.
United States Fish and Wildlife
Service. The USFWS of the DOI is the lead federal agency for
managing and conserving the nation's migratory birds, threatened and
endangered species, non-marine mammals, and sport fishes. Among
other duties, the USFWS: manages national wildlife refuges, operates
federal fish hatcheries, regulates hunting of migratory game birds,
provides financial and technical assistance to state wildlife
agencies, and implements most international wildlife conventions.
16.2 Other Publicly Owned Lands
Under the Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976 (FLPMA),
secs. 1701-1784, BLM must manage its lands under principles of
multiple use and sustained yield in accordance with land use plans
developed by the agency. 43 U.S.C.
secs. 1701(a)(7), 1732(a).
BLM is required to inventory all of its lands and develop land use
plans, that among other things: reflect the principles of multiple
use and sustained yield; take a multidisciplinary approach involving
physical, biological, economical, and other sciences; consider
present and future uses; comply with federal and state pollution
laws; and, generally conform with state, local, and tribal land use
policies. 43 U.S.C. sec.
1712(c). The FLPMA also sets out the procedures for: acquiring,
exchanging, conveying, or selling BLM lands; gaining easements on
BLM lands; withdrawing BLM lands from nacec.certain uses; and,
providing grazing permits and leases on rangelands.
"Multiple use" means management to balance the many
different types of surface resources, including outdoor recreation,
grazing, mining, timber, watershed protection, and wildlife and fish
conservation. Consideration must be given to the relative value of
the resources. However, priority should not necessarily be given to
"the combination of uses that will give the greatest dollar return
or the greatest unit output." FLPMA, 43 U.S.C. sec.
1702(c); Multiple Use, Sustained Yield Act (MUSYA). 16 U.S.C. sec.
"Sustained yield" means the achievement and maintenance in
perpetuity of a high-level annual or regular periodic output of the
various renewable resources of the public lands consistent with
multiple use. FLPMA, 43 U.S.C. sec.
1702; MUSYA, 16 U.S.C. sec. 531.
Grazing leases and permits. The Taylor Grazing Act of
U.S.C. sec. 315, replaced the concept of an open range with a
grazing fee and permit system. Continued degradation from
nacec.overgrazing led Congress to authorize both the BLM and the
USFS to develop grazing allotment management plans tailored to
specific grazing conditions and prepared in consultation with the
lessees and permittees. 43 U.S.C. sec.
1752. Holders of existing grazing permits or leases receive
first priority for renewal, and the government must pay compensation
for revoking any unexpired permit. The permits or leases are
generally valid for a period of ten years. A permittee may graze a
fixed number of cattle or sheep on the land. The Public
Rangelands Improvement Act of 1978 (PRIA), 43 U.S.C. secs.
1901-1908, defines a formula for setting grazing fees. The
formula reflects changes in private grazing land lease rates, the
price of beef cattle and costs of livestock production. The minimum
fee is $1.35 per Animal Unit Month (AUM) – the amount of forage
necessary to sustain one cow and her calf, one horse or five sheep
or goats for one month. In 1996, 1997 and 1998 grazing fees were the
minimum US$1.35 per AUM, far below market value and the cost to the
government of managing the system. Since passage of the PRIA,
improvement through livestock reduction is to be a management
priority. 43 U.S.C. sec.
16.3 Protected Areas and Parks
National Parks. Congress creates every national park
separately by individual legislation. The NPS administers national
parks according to the goals and standards set forth in the
individual park's legislation. Economic development of most natural
resources, such as timber or minerals, is prohibited, except for
mining claims established before 1976. Mining in Parks Act of 1976,
U.S.C. secs. 1901-1912. Firearms and hunting are also prohibited
in most parks. Private enterprises are allowed to contract for
concessions to provide food, lodging, and some recreational
services. Concessions Policy Act of 1970, 16 U.S.C. sec.
20. See National Park and Recreation Act of 1978, Pub. L.
No. 95-625; 92 Stat. 3467 (codified in scattered sections of 16
U.S.C.); Park Service Organic Act of 1916, 16 U.S.C. sec.
3. Most major threats to national parks come from
nacec.activities just outside their boundaries, which are regulated,
if at all, only by general land use planning restrictions.
Wilderness Areas. Wilderness areas are vast roadless areas
designated to be preserved in their natural condition, unaffected by
human activities. Congress designated some federal wilderness areas
in the Wilderness Act of 1964, 16
U.S.C. secs. 1131-1136, the Eastern Wilderness Act of 1975, Pub.
L. No. 93-622, and the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation
Act of 1980, 16 U.S.C.
secs. 3101-3133. The Wilderness Act also established a process
by which the federal land management agencies, including the USFS,
BLM, and NPS, study and recommend roadless areas under their
jurisdiction for protection as wilderness. Such wilderness areas are
still administered by the designating agency. Wilderness areas are
to be preserved in their natural state; only non-motorized
recreational uses are allowed. The major exceptions to this rule
include pre-1984 mining claims, pre-1964 grazing rights, logging (if
specifically allowed in an area), and the federal development of
hydropower or water resources.
National Recreation Areas. National recreation areas are
typically created to encompass the lands surrounding reservoirs
behind federally-authorized dams. National recreation areas permit
broader economic development of resources. 16 U.S.C. sec. 1724.
Wild and Scenic Rivers. See Section 9.7: Protection
of Fresh Water Ecosystems.
State Parks and Conservation Areas. Every state has a
system of protected areas, which can provide a wide range of
conservation benefits and recreational opportunities. In addition,
local and county parks and playgrounds often protect small natural
areas or open spaces.
16.4 Protection of Cultural or National
The federal government can protect cultural or historical sites
as national monuments or historic landmarks. It can also withdraw or
reserve archaeological sites, or otherwise regulate archaeological
activities on public lands.
National Monuments. Congress has authorized the President
to designate national monuments, consistent with the terms of the
Antiquities Act of 1906, 16 U.S.C. sec.
431, and the Historic Sites, Buildings and Antiquities Act of
U.S.C. secs. 461-467. National monuments may be designated for
their scenic or natural significance as well as for historical,
cultural, or scientific reasons. The NPS administers national
National Historic Landmarks. The National Historic
Preservation Act of 1966 (NHPA), as amended, 16 U.S.C. sec.
470, established a National Register of Historic Places. Sites
are eligible for listing if they have significant cultural or
historical value. Private owners of listed landmarks may be eligible
for income tax credits. Federal agencies must conduct a "historic
impact review" before taking any action that could negatively impact
a listed site. The Advisory Council on Historic Preservation
oversees the program and must be given an opportunity to comment on
federal actions potentially affecting listed landmarks.
Protection of Archaeological Resources on Public or Indian
Lands. The Antiquities Act of 1906, 16 U.S.C. sec.
431, authorizes the withdrawal or reservation of lands
containing objects of historical or scientific value. Under the
Archaeological Resources Protection Act, 16 U.S.C.
sec. 470aa, the excavation or alteration of any archaeological
resource on public lands or lands belonging to Native Americans is
prohibited without a permit. Additional protection for Native
American remains and objects is provided for under the Native
American Graves Protection Act, 25 U.S.C.
secs. 3001 et seq.
16.A Legal Instruments
National Interest Lands Conservation Act of 1980, 94 Stat. 2371
(codified in various sections of Titles 16 and 43 U.S.C.) 16 U.S.C.
Act of 1906, 16 U.S.C. sec. 431
Resources Protection Act, 16 U.S.C. secs. 470aa-470ll
Policy Act of 1970, 16 U.S.C. sec. 20
Land Policy and Management Act of 1976 (FLPMA), 43 U.S.C. secs.
Sites, Buildings and Antiquities Act of 1935, 16 U.S.C. secs.
in Parks Act of 1976, 16 U.S.C. secs. 1901-1912
Sustained Yield Act (MUSYA), 16 U.S.C. secs. 528-531
Historic Preservation Act of 1966 (NHPA), 16 U.S.C. secs. 470 et
Native American Graves Protection Act, 25 U.S.C. secs.
and Recreation Act of 1978, Pub. L. No. 95-625, 93 Stat. 3467
(codified in scattered sections of Titles 16 and 30 U.S.C.)
Public Rangelands Improvement Act of 1978 (PRIA), 43 U.S.C. secs.
Grazing Act of 1934, 43 U.S.C. sec. 315
Act of 1964, 16 U.S.C. secs. 1131-1136