Covered wagon travels the Oregon-California-Pony Express Historic Trail, Wyoming, photo by Bob Wick, BLM

History of the BLM

Our Heritage, Our Future.

Cadastral Survey in Colorado, 1960, Photo courtesy BLM Colorado

In many ways, the history of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is the history of the growth and development of the United States (U.S.). The BLM was formally established in 1946, but its roots go back to the years after America’s independence, when the young nation expanded.  At first, these lands were used to encourage homesteading, westward migration, and economic benefits to the national treasury and citizens. The General Land Office (GLO) was created in 1812 to support these national goals. Over time, values and attitudes regarding public lands shifted, and Congress at the urging of President Truman, merged the GLO and another agency, the U.S. Grazing Service, creating the BLM.   

Today, the BLM administers more surface land (245 million acres or one-tenth of America’s land base) and more subsurface mineral estate (700 million acres) than any other government agency in the U.S. The BLM’s mission, which is principally defined by the Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976 (FLPMA), directs the agency to carry out a dual mandate: that of managing public land for multiple uses while conserving natural, historical, and cultural resources.  In the language of FLPMA, the BLM is to administer public lands “on the basis of multiple use and sustained yield” of resources. 

To better understand the history, culture, and impact of the BLM, BLM’s recently established History Initiative. The Initiatives’ goal is to build a program that enlightens the public and our employees to the special place in history that the Bureau of Land Management has played in managing our public lands. The initiative intends to achieve this goal by  

  • With our partners, ensure that a systemic process is undertaken to preserve BLM’s important history 

  • Capture and organize the BLM’s administrative history through a comprehensive repository for physical, digital, and oral material 

  • Ensure that relevant, timely historical information is accessible to BLM staff and the public, where appropriate 

In the coming year, History Initiative team members will work with BLM staff members, retirees, and key partners within and outside of BLM, including members of the many sovereign tribal nations, to research and communicate the rich history of the BLM. We hope that by providing a rich tapestry of context and connections, we can guide our agency from who we were to who they aspire to become. 

Discover the national history of BLM lands and resources.

Read about the BLM regional history.

Experience History 

Love historical sites?  Dig dinosaurs?  Then these web pages are for you:

People have inhabited lands now managed by the BLM as long as human memory. As a result, the public lands connect the past and the present through ongoing traditional uses and by holding invaluable evidence of human history. Learn more!
Love dinosaurs? The BLM paleontology program works to preserve and protect paleontological resources for the benefit of current and future generations. We facilitate insightful research. Learn more!