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Eye of the Needle Vandalism
Over Memorial Day weekend in 1997, vandals destroyed a Western natural wonder - the Eye of the Needle, an 11-foot sandstone arch located near the Upper Missouri National Wild and Scenic River in Montana. Rafters on the river can no longer marvel at this geological formation, which drew the attention of Lewis and Clark during their historic expedition in 1804-1806. Promoting respect for out Nation's natural heritage is one of the BLM's key priorities as the Bureau works to protect these priceless resources, which belong to current and future generations of Americans.

What is the Bureau of Land Management?
What is the scope of the BLM's Law Enforcement Program?
Why does the BLM have law enforcement authority?
How does the BLM provide law enforcement services?
Is there much crime on public lands?
How do BLM law enforcement personnel protect you?
How does law enforcement protect the public lands for future generations?
How can I help?

What is the Bureau of Land Management?

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM), an agency of the U.S. Department of the Interior, manages 264 million acres of public lands found primarily in the Western United States, plus an additional 300 million acres of subsurface mineral estate located throughout the country. Originally, the lands were valued principally for the commodities extracted from them, including minerals and livestock forage; today, the public also prizes them for their recreation opportunities and the natural, historical, and cultural resources they contain. Additionally, at a time of unprecedented growth in the Western States, the public lands are one of the last guarantees of open space, a key factor in the West's lifestyle.

Salt Lake City Field Office Ranger
A Salt Lake City Field Office ranger, who patrols 28,000 miles each year in his patrol vehicle, has law-enforcement responsibility over 2.5 million acres of public land in Utah.

What is the scope of the BLM's Law Enforcement Program?

The BLM's law enforcement program is responsible for protecting public safety and resources across the nation's 264 million acres of BLM-managed public land, which it does in partnership with state and local law enforcement agencies. The BLM has approximately 200 BLM law enforcement officers, some of whom patrol an area as large as1.8 million acres. Law enforcement personnel perform a wide variety of tasks, including:

  • protecting cultural and historical sites, such as petroglyphs, from vandalism;
  • locating and eradicating drug-manufacturing laboratories and marijuana fields;
  • ensuring the humane treatment of wild horses and burros;
  • guarding against the dumping of hazardous wastes and other pollutants;
  • preventing theft and damage of timber, rare cactus plants, minerals, and other valuable publicly-owned resources.

Why does the BLM have law enforcement authority?

Congress gave the BLM law enforcement authority in 1976 with passage of the Federal Land Policy and Management Act (FLPMA). Through enactment of FLPMA, Congress recognized the need for BLM law enforcement officers to ensure public health and safety and to protect the nation's public land resources.

BLM Ranger on Horseback
BLM rangers make routine patrols on horseback over the wide open spaces of the BLM, which manages more land - 264 million acres - than any other Federal agency.

How does the BLM provide law enforcement services?

Rangers patrol the public lands in a manner similar to that of park rangers and fish and game wardens. They offer a variety of services to the public, such as providing security at recreation sites and helping visitors with disabled vehicles. Rangers also assist special agents on specific investigations and carry out their enforcement duties by issuing warnings and citations and, if necessary, by making arrests.

Special agents are analogous to detectives on local police forces. They normally conduct complex investigations of criminal activities on public land. Special agents also investigate one-time crimes and assist other Federal law enforcement groups as appropriate.

In addition, local law enforcement officers, such as county sheriff deputies, assist the BLM in patrolling popular recreation sites. They provide radio dispatch and other services that help protect the public and the land's natural and cultural resources.

  Torched and Abandoned Car
Stolen vehicles are often dumped on the public lands. This car was torched and abandoned on BLM land in the California Desert District.

Is there much crime on public lands?

Crime on the public lands is on the rise as both cities and towns across the West grow at unprecedented rates. BLM-managed lands are no longer remote: in the lower 48 states, over two-thirds of the public lands are within an hour's drive of major urban centers. Since 1993, crime on the public lands has risen in several different categories:

  • Motor vehicle theft has increased by 20 percent..
  • Assaults have risen by 30 percent.
  • Vandalism against public property has increased 70 percent.
  • Incidents of marijuana cultivation, drug labs, and drug trafficking haves risen 50 percent.

In the changing West, BLM law enforcement officers perform duties related to the public land resources, rather than duplicate services provided by county sheriffs and other law enforcement agencies.

How do BLM law enforcement personnel protect you?


  • Each year, the BLM issues more than 32,000 special recreation-use permits to outfitters, guides, and others who provide recreational services to the public. In issuing permits, the BLM seeks to ensure that holders are equipped to provide a safe experience for visitors to the public lands. BLM law enforcement may investigate and seek to prosecute any outfitter or guide who does not obtain a permit.

  • Over three million campers enjoy their public lands each year. Rangers patrol high-use areas to promote safe and enjoyable camping.

  • Rangers work to ensure that Off-Highway Vehicles (OHVs) operate in only those areas designated for OHV use. Unauthorized OHV use can lead to serious environmental degradation.

  • BLM rangers often assist county sheriffs, who have primary jurisdiction, with search and rescue operations on public lands.
BLM Ranger at ATV Accident
Occasionally, accidents occur in public land recreation areas. BLM rangers are available to render medical aid and assistance with search and rescue.

How does law enforcement protect the public lands for future generations?

Hazardous Materials
Hazardous waste dumping is a growing problem on BLM-managed public lands. Those who dump waste illegally are attempting to avoid the high cost of proper disposal or are seeking to dispose of evidence of illegal drug manufacture. Unless law enforcement locates the persons responsible, the taxpayer becomes liable for clean-up costs, which may run to several thousand dollars. Waste dumped includes electrical ballasts containing PCBs, paint sludge, paint waste and solvents, methamphetamine waste, drums of used oil, and barrels of flammable liquids. BLM Special Agents investigate, prosecute, and seek restitution from individuals in connection with hazardous waste dumping.

Wild Horse & Burro Protection
BLM law enforcement officers are responsible for protecting wild horses and burros on public lands. They also conduct compliance checks when animals are adopted as part of the BLM's wild horse and burro adoption program. BLM rangers seek to ensure that adopters treat animals humanely and according to adoption guidelines; BLM special agents and rangers investigate abuses of wild horses, including the unauthorized capture and sale of wild horses and burros.

BLM Ranger providing directions
BLM ranger gives directions to a man visiting the public lands in California. The Bureau manages 14.5 million acres of land in the State, whose diverse and growing population is increasingly turning to BLM lands for outdoor recreational opportunities.

Rangers help preserve wilderness values by protecting wilderness resources and by providing visitors with information. Among other actions, rangers issue citations to those using motorized vehicles or mechanized equipment in Wilderness Areas.

Fish and Wildlife
Rangers protect fish and wildlife species on public lands by enforcing the Endangered Species Act and migratory bird hunting regulations on all public lands. They also enforce subsistence hunting and fishing regulations on Alaska's public lands.

Cultural Resources
BLM law enforcement officers work to protect from vandalism more than 150,000 prehistoric and historic sites on public lands, including ancient dwellings, burial sites, historic trails, cabins, forts and mines. Despite laws authorizing severe penalties, illegal collecting and vandalism are common at these sites.

Marijuana Eradication Operation
The BLM carries out a marijuana eradication operation in partnership with Delta County, CO.

Mineral Resources
The BLM oversees the leasing and development of Federal minerals, such as oil, gas, and coal, on public lands. To deter theft, BLM rangers are authorized to stop and inspect vehicles carrying oil from Federal lease sites to ensure that they possess appropriate documentation. BLM special agents and rangers visit Federal lease sites to safeguard minerals. Special agents investigate crimes relating to the theft of oil and gas, which deprives taxpayers of royalties.

Marijuana Eradication and Drug Enforcement
In the rapidly urbanizing West, illegal drug activity is a growing problem on the public lands. Law enforcement officers are finding increasing incidents of marijuana cultivation and illegal drug laboratories used to manufacture meth-amphetamines.

How can I help?

You can help safeguard the BLM public lands for future generations by following the laws, rules, and regulations that are intended to protect public land resources. Please report acts of vandalism, theft, and abuse to your local BLM office. Thank you.

BLM ranger explains recreation features and restrictions in the Birds of Prey National Conservation Area, Idaho.

  BLM Ranger explains recreation features and restrictions
Spray-painted graffiti on BLM sign   Spray-painted graffiti on a BLM Colorado sign explaining the Escalante Creek Potholes natural feature.

People often dump trash onto the public lands, which BLM rangers work to protect on behalf of all Americans.

  Trash dumped on public lands