Public Land Management
U.S. PUBLIC LAND- The federal government owns about 640 million acres of land in the United States, about 28% of the total land area of 2.27 billion acres in America. The original public domain lands totaled 1.8 billion acres.
Two-thirds of the original 1.8 billion acres of public domain acquired by the United States were subsequently transferred to individuals, corporations and states. Other large areas were set aside for national parks and monuments, national forests, wildlife preserves and refuges, military lands, and federal reservations for Native American Tribes. Over 40 million acres were transferred out of the public domain in railroad and wagon road land grants. (source PLF) There is an excellent history of all land in America provided by the Public Lands Foundation for America’s Heritage (PLF).
Congress passed the Homestead Act (1862), Timber Culture Act (1873), Desert Land Law Act (1877), and the Timber and Stone Act (1878) to further distribute public lands. Congress also passed the Mining Law of 1872 to encourage exploration and development of the nation’s mineral resources. An estimated 640 million acres, including both surface and mineral rights, were transferred to those who settled the Midwest and the West.
Recreation on U.S. public lands; Most state and federally managed public lands are open for recreational use. Recreation opportunities depend on the managing agency, and run the gamut from the less restrictive, undeveloped wide open spaces of BLM lands to the highly developed and controlled national and state parks. Wildlife refuges and state wildlife management areas, managed primarily to improve habitat, are generally open to wildlife watching, hiking, and hunting, except for closures to protect mating and nesting, or to reduce stress on wintering animals. National forests generally have a mix of maintained trails and roads, wilderness and undeveloped portions, and developed picnic and camping areas.
Grazing on U.S. public lands; Historically in the western United States, much public land is leased for grazing by cattle or sheep (most National Park Service areas are closed to livestock grazing). This includes vast tracts of National Forest and BLM land, as well as land on some Wildlife Refuges. National Parks are the exception. This use became controversial in the late 20th century as it was examined by environmentalists and scientists concerned about the impact of these domestic animals on native plant populations and watersheds.
In 1916, Congress passed the Stockraising Homestead Act to enable ranchers to acquire land for ranch headquarter sites, but the federal government retained the mineral rights in those patents. That is why the federal government still owns, and the BLM administers, the mineral rights beneath 70 million acres of stock raising homestead private lands in many of the western states.
Oil and gas drilling and mining on U.S. public lands; The Mining Law of 1872 facilitated mineral exploration and development and created mining camps that grew into many of the present-day communities of the West. The Mining Law originally applied to all valuable minerals in the public domain lands, but the turn of the century brought changes. The Mineral Leasing Act of 1920 was passed to “promote the mining of coal, phosphate, oil, oil shale, gas, and sodium on the public domain.” It removed the fuel and other nonmetallic minerals from the purview of the 1872 Mining Law. (source PLF)
Large tracts of public land in the United States are now available for leasing for petroleum or mineral production. Lands which have a high likelihood of producing valuable resources can, as of 2018, command prices as high as $80,000 an acre per year. Large tracts of other lands, where the likelihood of the presence or successful exploitation of resources are very low, could be leased, as of 2018, for as low as $1.50 an acre per year. The Trump administration greatly expanded mineral leasing resulting in a substantial increase in fracking in likely locations in Wyoming and New Mexico, but a great deal of land where prospects for successful production was leased at very low rates to speculators. (source-Wikipedia)
THE OVER ALL ACCESS PROBLEM- Taken from; Public Access to Federal Lands Dilemma by Charles S. Lucero in the Public Land and Resource Review (1982). Although 754 million acres of federal lands are found in the western United States, they are often inaccessible to the public. This inaccessibility results from four problems:
- A lack of public awareness concerning which lands are public.
- The physical remoteness of public lands from established roads and trails.
- Government lessees and permittees who prohibit public use on federal lands.
- Private land-owners who block access to public lands by controlling key tracts of land.
The access problem surfaced in the 1950s, and has grown steadily with the increase in the number of public land recreationists. In 1959 the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) estimated that 12.4 million acres of its land could not be reached by existing roads and trails and an additional 5.4 million acres were blocked by private lands. “Oregon” and Colorado field studies indicate that a considerable amount of public lands are closed to the public in those states. And in Montana, an interim study by the subcommittee on agricultural lands demonstrates specific instances of access denial to public lands. Another good article addresses the issue in 2018.
Millions of Acres of ‘Public’ Land Are Not Legally Accessible
Private holdings block public access to nearly 10 million acres of federal land in the West, hampering growth in the recreation economy, a new report says. The federal program that could help purchase access expires soon. Nearly a third of the landlocked properties are in Wyoming. Twelve other states are part of the study. The reports say those states have the following amount of inaccessible federal land:
- Wyoming: 3,046,000 acres
- Nevada: 2,054,000 acres
- Montana: 1,523,000 acres
- New Mexico: 554,000 acres
- California: 492,000 acres
- Oregon: 443,000 acres
- Colorado: 269,000 acres
- Utah: 264,000 acres
- Arizona: 243,000 acres
- Idaho: 208,000 acres
- South Dakota: 196,000 acres
- Washington: 121,000 acres
- North Dakota: 107,000 acres
More than 90 percent of the landlocked public land acreage is managed by the Bureau of Land Management.
This article reports a growing problem that “Some ranches that in the past afforded neighbors access to BLM managed lands have been divided or bought by “outsiders” who often manage for fee hunting. These changes in land ownership exacerbate the already limited access. This represents a change in landowner mindset, since they have historically allowed the public to drive on private roads to reach public lands.” The problem is growing too.
Opinion from the U.S. Department of Justice (in part)- “Rights-of-Way Across National Forests-The Act of June 4, 1897, does not grant a right of access to owners of land surrounded by national forests, other than actual settlers, and the Secretary of Agriculture has discretionary authority to deny such access unless a right otherwise exists. The common law doctrine of easement by necessity does not apply to land owned by the federal government, but a right of access may be implied from the terms of a federal land grant in some circumstances. No statutes currently modify any such implied right found to exist. Absent a prior existing access right, the Secretary of Agriculture may deny “adequate access” to land within a national forest wilderness area, but must offer a land exchange as indemnity. June 23, 1980” The report goes on to say; “Congress has given private inholders a statutory right of ingress and egress with respect to their property, including a right to build roads. Congress clearly has the power to grant such statutory rights. The question is whether it has done so?” This report was written 1980!
FEDERAL LANDS ACCESS HAS VALUE- Today, the leases from BLM-administered public lands, reserved mineral rights, and offshore drilling generate billions of dollars annually for the U.S. Treasury. Public lands managed by the BLM contributed $107 billion to the U.S. economy while supporting nearly 450,000 jobs in FY 2013.The BLM’s budget for FY 2014 was $1.052 billion to manage these public lands.
The economic output generated by activities on the public lands fuel local economies. Energy related development and production — including oil and gas, coal, non-energy minerals, and geothermal, wind and solar energy — on BLM-managed public lands contributed just over $99 billion in FY 2013. Within that total, oil and gas generated $69 billion; coal $16 billion; non-energy minerals such as sand and gravel $12.4 billion; and geothermal, wind and solar energy leases $2.3 billion.
Other significant economic activity was supported by: recreation use ($5.5 billion); livestock production, or the introduction of feed, fiber, and livestock into the market ($1.5 billion); and timber harvesting ($658 million). Royalties and other revenues are also collected on this economic activity, resulting in substantial funds being contributed back to the U.S. Treasury, as well as to state and local governments.
States and local governments (counties and boroughs) share in much of the revenue generated on public lands. Fifty percent of the royalties from hard rock and fluid (oil and gas) mineral development and leasing go to the affected state. Each year, either 50 percent of grazing fees or $10 million, whichever is greater, is allocated back to the BLM state office or field office where the money was collected, and used for range improvements. Fifty percent of receipts from timber sales on the Oregon and California lands are allocated to the 18 counties where harvest occurs. In FY 2014 a total of $436.9 million was given to local governments under the PILT program (Payments In Lieu of Taxes). (source PLF)
In addition to the monetary contributions generated, the public lands also provide many and varied opportunities for people to connect with and enjoy the great outdoors without infringing on private property. People from America and around the world take advantage of our open spaces as refuges from fast-paced urban living. The BLM recorded 61 million recreation visits in FY 2013. Among the many recreational uses on BLM public lands are: hiking, biking, picnicking, camping, birding, fishing, hunting, recreational shooting, and off-highway vehicle use. (source PLF)
According to the Public Land Foundation the National System of Public Lands there is a huge reservoir of public lands and resources that must be kept in public ownership to meet the current needs of the American people and to help meet the as-yet-unknown, and unknowable, needs of future generations. We must keep the options open for future natural resource needs and public uses that we cannot possibly envision at this time.
These lands are posterity’s property and must be managed as such. These lands are to benefit both private and the public’s interest equally. It is a tough balance to try and maintain.
So we have established and documented that there is a huge issue concerning access to publicly owned land in America. What next?
PRIVATE PROPERTY BLOCKS ACCESS TO PUBLIC LANDS by Marshall Swearingen, February 2nd, 2015. Mr. Swearingen offers an interesting outline concerning the public being “locked out” for access to publicly owned lands.
Another very interesting article is- Unlocking Inaccessible Public Lands Doesn’t Require Landowners to Give Up Their Property Rights by: Randall Williams posted in: Sportsmens Access, September 16, 2019.
Q: Would unlocking these inaccessible public lands require private landowners to give up their property?
A: The simple answer is no. See this site for more information.
Their position is that as a “lessee” of public land they are 100% responsible for what occurs on that land and thus they must 100% control what happens on that land. Not any different than when you lease a home, building, or similar in town. If you lease a home you do not allow just anyone to come in the front door whenever they want too. Sounds reasonable doesn’t it?
What is the RANGE Allotment Owners Association?
- The Range Allotment Owners – National Grazinglands Education Association (RAO), is a national level association of livestock producers who are Allotment Owners in the 17 contiguous Western States.
- RAO also accepts applications for non-voting membership from livestock organizations or businesses that support stock raising agriculture and the Constitutional right to own and control property.
- The RAO was formed for the purpose of educating, informing, and assisting Allotment Owners in protecting their property rights and promoting the interests of livestock organizations, businesses, and communities dependent on the Western livestock industry.
In short this organization fights for what they believe are the rights of Allotment Owners to totally control their allotment of publicly owned land from the Federal Government. That means locking gates to totally control access to publicly owned land. Blocking access to land they lease from the Federal Government.
The definition of leasing is; “A leasehold estate is an ownership of a temporary right to hold land or property in which a lessee or a tenant holds rights of real property by some form of title from a lessor or landlord. Although a tenant does hold rights to real property, a leasehold estate is typically considered personal property. “ (source Wikipedia)
I know the plight of the Allotment owners; the farmers and ranchers in rural America. The generations of those hard working people making a hard living from the land. I am insulted for them when they are disrespected by those extremist that believe that they have more rights to keep these families off the land than those same family who have for generations been good stewards of that land; publicly owned land!
These very responsible hands on managers of the public land through legal allotments face the exact same issues that those that live in town do. They want the same protections that those that live in town get. They want respect for the land they are responsible for, they want respect for their management of that same land, they want protection from illegal trespassers, protection for their personal property and protections for their families. Is that too much to ask for…NO it is not! Everyone in America wants the exact same thing! Why not the same for these Americans?
Every day they face cut fences, gates left open or destroyed, livestock injured or killed, equipment stolen, damaged or destroyed. There is no insurance policy they can call on to pay for all this. It is out of their pocket! This is serious business and is business for them!
The United States Congress 100% controls and makes all
laws concerning publicly owned lands.
“When Congress acts with respect to those lands covered by the [Property] clause, its legislation overrides conflicting state laws.”
ARIZONA’S PUBLICLY OWNED LAND- Five federal agencies manage 42.1 percent of Arizona’s land. State trust lands make up 12.7 percent of land in Arizona. About 27.1 percent of Arizona land belongs to tribes. That adds up to 81.9% of land is other than private in Arizona. This leaves just 18.1 percent of all Arizona land to private owners. That means Arizona has 72.9589 million total acres so that means 13.2055609 million acres are private and 59.75334 million acres are “other than private”. That would seem to be plenty of room for everyone, but is it?
Here is a story about the Klump family that came to Cochise County in the 1800’s before the U.S. Forest Service and the U.S. Bureau of Land Management were ever created. Government agencies that now control the very land that the Klump family helped settle, develop, and improve only to be told that they must “pay” for the privilege to use the now public’s land they once grazed and roamed freely on. Land that government people, who live in town, tell them how they can use it. There are very strong “hard feelings’ about all this so called change for the better. Or is it really change for the better?
I am very “law and order” and I believe the Klump family and other long time ranchers are too. The dispute comes where the government bureaucrats interprets the law one way and the using public interprets it another way. Then the battle is on!
Then there is the story of Wayne Hage who wrote the book Hage’s Storm Over Rangelands–Private Rights in Federal Lands. Hage battled the government since the very first day of his purchase of a ranch back in 1980’s. He sued in 1991, claiming the Forest Service harassed him for more than a decade after he rejected the agency’s offer to buy his ranch for half what he paid for it. All but 7,000 acres of the 759,000-acre ranch were Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management property on which Hage held grazing allotments.
I strongly encourage you to read both of these full accounts of what is going on with the Klump family and Hage family as they battle the United States Government. It is all true, factual, and alarming. Remember the “Livestock Free by 93!” Yes many of us remember very well the slogan, “Cattle Free By ’93” that became popular with the environmental movement seeking to eliminate cattle grazing on public lands in the 1990s. That movement still exists today but it has gone underground!
To Western states ranchers with grazing on public lands, this movement was serious. The pressure comes from environmentalist both outside and inside the BLM and Forest Service. The lessee or allotment owners have learned to ”not trust the government” for their own survival. Many have tried to be cooperative with government agencies like the Arizona Game and Fish Department on access for the public to publicly owned land only to have very bad experiences that include;
- Fences cut.
- Livestock kept away from water sources.
- Water storage tanks shot up.
- Livestock killed or injured.
- Vehicles racing all around damaging the land.
- Range or forest fires started by careless campers.
- Gates left open or knocked down.
Hunters, hikers, explorers, fisherman, bird watchers, joggers, cross country runners, trappers, and similar all want to use public lands. But the problem is just that; people! As we know in society today there are the good, the bad, and the ugly.
A. The good use the land, pickup trash, follow the laws, and respect those that have a legal lease for that land. Most of the time you would never know they were ever there.
B. The bad are those that use the land and leave signs that they were there, ruts across field, campfire rings, and some trash. They know the land is leased but figure that since it is publicly owned first they can do as they wish. Wrong in my book!
C. The ugly are those that have no respect at all for anything. They cut deep ruts in the land with their vehicles, leave gates open, throw trash out, cut fences, shoot up signs and equipment, chase and scare livestock and more.
Learn more about this very interesting history here.
THEN THERE ARE THE EXTREMIST
There are others that strongly feel that the land should not be used at all. It must not be used for hiking, bird watching, mining, ranching, fishing, hunting, or anything. They do not support any management in anyway. No controlled burns for example. They believe that nature will manage itself. These people have infiltrated the BLM and the Forest Service and are now making recommendations and decisions about the public land use based on their narrow version of “proper land use of public land”. Yes these people are employees of these government agencies making decisions on how public land can be used…if at all. There are at least a dozen organizations that are active in restricting public land use in America. They lobby Congress and each individual states governments to restrict access, restrict use, and just plain try to stop all accesses to publicly owned lands. Ranchers are “hated” by these groups. They are known to take extreme measures to force their beliefs on others too.
There’s an article that starts with “Tired and sore from tending the cattle, hauling water and mending fences, Arthur Lyman, a fifth-generation cowman, bristles at the signs and stickers placed along the road that declare: “Welfare rancher.“”
The article goes on to say; “Environmentalists have asserted that public tracts are being ruined by livestock who eat away the vegetation and pollute streams with their wastes. ”
“The damage has been quite severe,” said Nancy Green of the Wilderness Society. “It will take decades to restore some of these areas, at a cost of many millions of dollars.” Nancy Green very likely lives in town. They have net assets of $62,625,935. In review of their website and history they are all about legislation and suing over their concerns about public lands. I did not see where they provide any funds for restoration of any public lands.
At the present time in New Mexico ALL wood cutting has been halted due to a Court ruling on action taken by an environmental group claiming that the “Mexican Spotted Owl” there must be protected. Humans in the woods threaten them I guess?
One article reads; “Last month, U.S. District Judge Raner Collins of Arizona ruled in litigation brought by Santa Fe-based WildEarth Guardians that the U.S. Forest Service and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service had shirked their responsibility to count the Mexican spotted owl as part of a recovery plan.
The judge also halted tree cutting across thousands of square miles of forest in five national forests in New Mexico and one in Arizona until federal agencies can understand better how to monitor the population of the threatened owl.”
This decision stopped ALL Christmas tree cutting, wood cutting for residential fireplaces and stoves, or just clearing a forest roadway from fallen trees! It was just plain crazy!
Efforts are underway to reach an agreement that would still protect the so called endangered Owl and meets the needs of New Mexico residents that need firewood for heating their homes. Amazingly people have been cutting wood in New Mexico for a couple of hundred years and the wildlife adapted with ease. But city folks think now it is a big problem!
TURNING OVER FEDERAL PUBLIC LAND TO INDIVIDUAL STATES CONTROL
The idea and in some cases a demand is that under the “state’s rights” claims each individual state should manage all federally controlled land in that state. That would lead to a different management program in each state. Like the education system was like back in the 1950’s and 60’ and we all know what that was like. A mess!
One of the biggest questions surrounding this idea is whether a rural state like Wyoming, with a small state budget, can really afford to manage all this extra land. Groups like Backcountry Hunters & Anglers worry the cash-strapped states would be forced to sell it, which could endanger access to hunters, hikers, bird watchers, campers, or anyone else who likes to enjoy U.S. public lands. It is also likely the individual states will ask for federal funding to manage this new land. The feds will still be writing check for the management of the federal land they are already managing and spending public funds on. The states will create new departments, new layers of bureaucracies, and a pile of new rules. Those rules will change each time there is a new governor or legislature. In my opinion the loser will be the general public!