Photo of the BLM Rails to Trails Project in Susanville, CA

As American citizens consider how to use the considerable resources of the nation's public lands, it is important that they do so with a full understanding of the value of these lands. The enclosed report, Public Rewards from Public Lands, is a contribution to the discussion of how to best manage these lands for present and future generations.

America's public lands extend across diverse terrain and contain a wide variety of resources. Public Rewards from Public Lands describes these resources, which include energy and mineral deposits; rangelands; forests; fish and wildlife habitats; and sites of cultural, historic, and recreational importance.

To promote more effective management of these resources, BLM has entered into numerous collaborative partnerships with State and local governments and others. BLM shares revenues with the States from activities on the public lands, and provides Counties with payments in lieu of property taxes. Public Rewards from Public Lands documents these revenue transfers. In addition, the report shows the extent of the annual BLM investment in each State.

Public lands have many uses, including enjoyment by all Americans of those wide-open spaces for which the West is famous. Public Rewards from Public Lands shows the number of visitors who enjoy the diverse recreational opportunities on the public lands, including hunting, mountain-biking, fishing, camping, off-highway vehicle use, photography, and family picnics.

The extraordinary natural resources of this country's public lands provide rewards for all Americans. Public Rewards from Public Lands lets the public know more about the value of their resources.


The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is responsible for managing approximately 270 million acres of public land that are owned by the American people. Most of these lands are located in the Western United States,(1) and are rich in natural, cultural, and scenic resources. They extend across a variety of terrain, and are characterized by extensive grasslands, forests, high mountains, arctic tundra, and deserts. BLM administers diverse resources and uses on the nation's public lands, including energy and minerals, timber, livestock forage, fish and wildlife habitat, scenic and recreational resources, wilderness areas, and archaeological and historic sites. BLM manages an additional 300 million acres of subsurface mineral rights reserved by the Federal government and held in trust for public benefit.

Our public lands today are what remain from the original 1.8 billion acres of public domain, acquired through treaty, purchase, or conquest by the Federal government on behalf of all Americans. As a condition of entry to the Union, new Western States were required to disclaim officially all right and title to the unappropriated Federal land remaining within their boundaries at the time of statehood. In return for giving up any claims, newly-admitted States received land grants from the Federal government as part of their Enabling Acts.(2) Although some States sold them, these original grant lands still make up the majority of State lands in many Western States.

In managing the public lands, BLM performs a wide variety of functions. These include preparing land use plans and assessing environmental impacts; surveying; issuing leases; enforcing permit conditions; designing and constructing roads and other improvements; restoring degraded fish and wildlife habitat; identifying and protecting significant natural, cultural, and recreation resources; and monitoring resource conditions. In addition, BLM maintains the original property and cadastral survey records of the United States. BLM meets these responsibilities with extensive public participation, and in coordination with Federal agencies, State, tribal, and local governments, as well as other affected interests.

Public lands are part of the nation's heritage--an important legacy inherited by the people of the United States. As public land policies evolve, it is important to explore fully the significance of these lands, and their contribution to the country today. The purpose of this report is to examine some of the public benefits derived from public ownership of the lands and their resources, and to contribute to our understanding of how public lands meet the needs of present and future generations of Americans.

The History of Our Public Lands

From the nation's earliest days, Congress recognized that the public domain was a national asset, and used it to pursue public policy goals. For more than a century, public lands were disposed of through a series of legislative initiatives as part of a Federal effort to promote settlement of the West. These initiatives included military bounties; grants for the construction of wagon roads, canals, and railroads; the Homesteading Laws; the Mining Law of 1872; the Desert Land Act of 1877; and the Timber and Stone Act of 1878. Of the original public domain, the government gave away or sold almost two-thirds to States and to private citizens. The General Land Office, established by Congress in 1812 to oversee the disposition of Federal land, was the forebearer of today's BLM, making BLM the oldest of the Department of the Interior's land management agencies.

The late 19th century marked a shift in Federal land management priorities. Congress created the first National Forests in the Pacific Northwest to protect them from the fate of Eastern forests, which had been denuded by unregulated logging. At the same time, the government established the first National Parks and Wildlife Refuges. By withdrawing these lands, Congress signaled a shift in the policy goals served by public land. Instead of using them to promote settlement, Congress recognized that some of them should be held in public ownership because they had other resource values.

In the early 20th century, Congress took additional steps toward recognizing the value of the assets on public lands. The Mineral Leasing Act of 1920 provided for leasing, exploration, and production of selected commodities, including coal, oil, gas, and sodium. This ensured that the government retained control of important energy resources, rather than permitting them to pass into private ownership. When overgrazing threatened to reduce Western rangelands to a dustbowl in the 1930's, Congress approved the Taylor Grazing Act of 1934, which regulated grazing on the public lands through the use of permits.

Public appreciation of the value of public lands continued to grow. In 1964, Congress established the Public Land Law Review Commission to make recommendations on how the public lands should be managed. This bipartisan effort resulted in a published report in 1970, One Third of the Nation's Land, which recommended that:

The policy of large-scale disposal of public lands ... be revised and that future disposal should be of only those lands that will achieve maximum benefit for the general public in non-Federal ownership, while retaining in Federal ownership those [lands] whose values must be preserved so that they may be used and enjoyed by all Americans ....

Congress responded to the Commission's report by approving the Federal Land Policy and Management Act in 1976. Section 102(a)(1) implemented the Commission's major policy recommendation by declaring it the policy of the United States that,

... the public lands be retained in Federal ownership, unless as a result of the land use planning procedure provided for in this Act, it is determined that disposal of a particular parcel will serve the national interest ....

With passage of FLPMA, Congress also repealed many of the land disposal laws enacted since the mid-19th century. One of the most important features of FLPMA is the requirement that BLM manage public lands for "multiple use:"

The term "multiple use" means the management of the public lands and their various resource values so that they are utilized in the combination that will best meet the present and future needs of the American people ....

How Our Public Lands are Used

Use of the public lands has changed over time, and continues to evolve. Originally viewed as the Great American Desert, then primarily as a source of livestock forage, timber, and energy and mineral resources, increasingly the public lands are valued for their environmental resources, the recreational opportunities they offer, the cultural resources they contain, and, in an increasingly urban world, their vast open spaces. FLPMA's multiple-use mandate has enabled BLM to manage the public lands to meet these changing needs.

In the 1960's, publication of Rachel Carson's Silent Spring prompted Americans to take a new look at their surroundings and launched the environmental movement. In 1969, Congress approved the National Environmental Policy Act, which required Federal agencies to document the environmental effects of proposed development. Congress has passed several other statutes providing for the care of the land and its resources. The Endangered Species Act, the Clean Water Act, the Clean Air Act, the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, the Wilderness Act, the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, the National Historic Preservation Act, and other legislation all reflect the country's resolve to protect noncommodity resources such as wildlife, fisheries, clean water, and sites of cultural significance.

One of the more recent demands on the public lands has come from the desire for more recreation opportunities. In 1994, there were more than 65 million recreation visits to BLM-managed lands for hunting, fishing, camping, hiking, and other leisure activities. These were provided by a variety of specially-designated land, including Wild and Scenic Rivers, Wilderness Areas, Areas of Critical Environmental Concern, and Back Country Byways. As the number of visitors to Federal lands increases, BLM-managed lands help meet some of the demands that popular National Parks and National Forests are unable to satisfy.

Visitors are drawn also to BLM-managed lands by archeological, historic, and paleontological sites; together these form one of the most important bodies of cultural and scientific resources in the United States. They include the 11,700-year-old Mesa site in the Brooks Range, Alaska, which preserves some of the earliest evidence of human migration to the North American continent, and the prehistoric Anasazi complex that extends across portions of Utah, Arizona, and Colorado. Public lands also hold historic sites dating from more recent periods, including the remains of Spanish exploration in the Southwest, and portions of the original trails used by settlers moving westward. Additionally, BLM helps preserve significant Native American religious sites and resources relating to the history of ranching, mining, railroading, and homesteading.

The 270 million acres administered by BLM are the most ecologically diverse lands managed by any Federal agency, with representative plant and animal communities ranging from the most common to the most endangered. The varied terrain and landscape provide habitat for over 3,000 North American fish and wildlife species, including many big game animals and fish species that are important to the sport fishing industry. They also provide habitat crucial for the protection and recovery of over 1,000 plant and animal species either listed or candidates for listing under the Endangered Species Act. BLM is also pursuing a variety of initiatives to help prevent species from being listed as threatened or endangered.

One of the most important tools used by BLM to meet changing public demands is land exchanges. For example, a land exchange helped create the San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area in Arizona, which attracts visitors from all over the world. By trading land of high commercial value in the Phoenix metropolitan area for land on the San Pedro River, BLM is meeting public conservation needs while helping provide local economic benefits.

BLM must balance newer demands on public land with more traditional uses, including commodity extraction and grazing. BLM-managed lands contain 12.5 trillion cubic feet of proven natural gas reserves, and about 1.4 billion barrels of proven oil reserves. Approximately one-third of the nation's supply of coal is found on public lands, and royalties from coal, oil, gas, and other minerals generate income for the taxpayer. The estimated value of future royalties of Federal oil is $16.42 billion, gas royalties are worth some $11.31 billion, and royalties on coal reserves are valued at approximately $5.44 billion.

In the last 3 years, oil and gas leasing has increased significantly on BLM-managed lands. Public lands now hold more than 63,000 producing wells--an increase of 30 percent from 1985. Federal acreage under competitive leasing has increased to 39 million acres, and bonus bids and applications for permits to drill have both risen. Intensive exploration is underway on public lands in southwest Wyoming, where industry projects that there will be between 6,000 and 11,000 new wells by the year 2015.

Every year, thousands of individuals and companies apply to BLM to obtain a right-of-way grant to use public land for projects such as roads, pipelines, transmission lines, and communication sites. Many of these rights-of-way provide for the basic infrastructure of our society, meeting the needs of local cities, towns, and communities. The most dramatic example is the Trans-Alaska Pipeline authorized in 1974. The 800-mile pipeline delivers about 2 million barrels of crude oil daily from its source at Prudhoe Bay to the ice-free port of Valdez.

Grazing is another important activity occurring on BLM-managed lands; domestic livestock graze about 170 million acres of public rangelands. A significant portion of the feeder cattle produced for the Western feedlots spend part of their lives on public rangelands, and about 50 percent of the lambs produced in the U.S. are raised on public rangeland. Although the condition of the upland range improved significantly following passage of the Taylor Grazing Act, riparian areas continue to be severely degraded. The Department of the Interior's new grazing regulations will improve conditions in riparian areas, which support 50 percent of the biodiversity found on public rangeland. These regulations provide another example of the collaborative decision-making process employed by BLM.

BLM has a variety of programs to protect public health, safety, and property. Fire management is one of BLM's most important responsibilities--in FY95, BLM will spend approximately $236 million on fire protection.(3) Another critical BLM role is to inventory and clean up contaminants present on public lands, including abandoned mine sites, hazardous waste, unexploded ordnance, and improperly plugged oil and gas wells.

Revenues and Economic Benefits from Our Public Lands

BLM collects fees from many of the activities that take place on public lands; in FY94, revenues totaled more than $1.2 billion.(4) Through a variety of mechanisms, these receipts are shared between the U.S. Treasury and the public lands States.

Some of these receipts are returned directly to the States through statutory receipt sharing requirements. For example, public domain mineral receipts are shared equally with the States.(5) The State often allocates these revenues for specific purposes, such as education and transportation.

Sometimes, the States benefit indirectly from the revenues generated by BLM-manged lands and minerals. In the case of mineral receipts, 40 percent of the Federal share goes to the Reclamation Fund, which is returned to the States through the appropriation for the Bureau of Reclamation.

Counties where public lands are located benefit from the Federal Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILT) Program, which compensates local jurisdictions for loss of property tax revenues. PILT payments (approximately $100 million annually) are determined according to a formula that includes population, the amount of Federal land within the county, and offsets for certain Federal payments to the county. BLM administers PILT payments for all Federal land, regardless of ownership.

Public lands make both social and economic contributions to the communities where they are located. Public lands help maintain open space in an increasingly urbanized West, and provide significant local economic benefit. Data compiled by the Economic Research Service demonstrates the positive relationship between the public land base and State economic activity. Annual family income in rural counties with public land is approximately $2,000 higher than income in those rural counties without a public land base.(6)

The varied uses of BLM-managed lands, from commodity extraction to recreation, all promote local economic growth. For example, the Stagecoach Draw Unit natural gas field in southwest Wyoming will produce substantial revenues for State, County, and local governments, as well as for local school districts. The venture is projected to generate over $37 million in ad valorem taxes, $30 million in severance taxes, and $71 million from Federal royalties and rentals from producing wells.(7)

Recreational opportunities on BLM-managed land provide another example of the indirect benefits generated by Federal investment. As part of its Recreation 2000 initiative, BLM has been working to increase economic opportunities for local communities. Nearly 70 percent of all travel to Western States is pleasure-related. Deer hunting in the Western U.S.--the majority of which occurs on public land--generates $729 million in retail sales, contributes $411 million in salaries and wages, and provides 21,000 jobs annually. State governments benefit from the $40 million in sales taxes and $18 million in State income taxes.(8) Outfitters and guides provide an estimated $50-$60 million in revenue to the Western States annually, a large part of which arises from activities on BLM-managed lands.(9)


Use of the public lands has changed, and continues to change. Americans are placing greater and more varied demands on them than ever before. BLM's multiple-use mandate enables the agency to balance these demands, and to provide both tangible and intangible rewards to all Americans. These include revenues for the Treasury, diverse recreational opportunities, and, in an increasingly urbanized West, wide open spaces.

As the present generation of Americans considers options for the future management of these lands, it is important that they do so with a full understanding of this unique legacy. Americans have inherited this resource, and they have the opportunity to pass it on to future generations. In the current debate over land management policies, it is important that we do not foreclose our options for the future.


(1) The majority of public lands are located in the 12 Western States: Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming.

(2) California received title to its grant lands after becoming a State, and New Mexico received a portion of its lands before receiving statehood.

(3) This includes 114,748 million appropriated for fire protection, plus $120.945 million appropriated for the Department of the Interior Emergency Firefighting Fund.

(4) This figure reflects $1.1 billion for mineral receipts from all Federal leases, regardless of surface ownership or management, and $187 million from collections from other activities on public lands, including grazing receipts, timber receipts, and recreation fees. (U.S. Department of the Interior Budget Justifications, FY96 at p. 2-1).

(5) In Alaska, the State receives 90 percent of mineral receipts.

(6) Understanding Rural America, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Economic Research Service, Agricultural Information Bulletin Number 710.

(7) Texaco's Stagecoach Draw Unit Draft Environmental Impact Statement, Sweetwater County, Wyoming; U.S. Department of the Interior, Bureau of Land Management, Rock Springs District Office, Green River Resource Area, March 1995.

(8) Data on deer hunting from The Economic Impacts of Deer and Elk Hunting in the Western U.S, Mario F. Teisl & Rob I. Southwick, Southwick Associates.

(9) Public Land Statistics, 1993, U.S. Department of the Interior, Bureau of Land Management.

Unless otherwise indicated, all collections, payments, and appropriations are for FY94, which runs from October 1, 1993 to September 30, 1994.

Federal Collections from BLM Managed Lands and Minerals:

Grazing Fees: This category identifies grazing receipt collections authorized under the Taylor Grazing Act and other statutes.

Recreation and Use Fees: These fees are collected under the authority of the Land and Water Conservation Act as amended. They include entrance fees to National Conservation Areas; recreation use fees for campgrounds and specialized outdoor recreation sites, facilities, equipment, and services; special recreation permit fees, and Gold Eagle and Golden Age passport sales. BLM retains up to 15 percent of these revenues to offset the cost of collecting the fees. The remainder is available in the following year to the Management of Lands and Resources appropriation, and the appropriated amounts are distributed proportionately to the individual sites from which they were collected.

Miscellaneous Receipts: These fees result primarily from filing fees for applications for noncompetitive oil and gas leases, and from rights-of-way (excluding oil and gas rights-of way) and rent of land. This category also includes collections from fines, penalties, forfeited money and property, as well as interest charged by BLM.

Sales of Land and Materials: This category includes receipts from the sale of public land and materials, including sales of vegetative and mineral materials. Timber receipts are included here.

National Grasslands: This category includes grazing, oil and gas rents, bonuses, royalties, and other receipts derived from activities on National Grasslands.

Mining Claim Holding Fees: These are annual maintenance fees and were approved by Congress in the Omnibus Reconciliation Act of 1993. BLM uses collections to administer the program. Collections that exceed BLM's budget authority go to the Treasury. If they do not exceed BLM's budget authority, BLM retains all collections.

Mineral Royalties, Rents, & Bonuses: This figure reflects mineral receipts from all Federal leases, regardless of surface ownership or management. Revenues are from all Federal mineral leases, including leases for coal, geothermal, oil, and gas. This figure includes revenues from oil and gas rights-of-way collected under the Mineral Leasing Act. It also includes receipts from mineral leasing on acquired lands, including National Grasslands; these receipts are collected by MMS and transferred to BLM for disbursement.

In addition to the receipts identified above, the following receipts go directly into special and trust funds used by BLM to support a variety of activities on public lands. In FY94, collections were:

Direct BLM Financial Transfers to the State:

This section identifies payments made to the State from collections and receipts from activities on BLM-managed land. This section also includes appropriations made under the Payments in Lieu of Taxes program.

Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILT): Congress appropriates PILT payments annually, and BLM administers disbursement to individual counties. These figures reflect the total PILT for all Federal land in the State. PILT payments are determined according to a formula that includes population, the amount of Federal land within the county, and offsets for certain Federal payments to the county, such as grazing and oil and gas fees.

Grazing Fees: These funds are the portion of the grazing receipts shared directly with the State. BLM payments are either 12.5 percent or 50 percent, depending on the statutory authority. Payments identified in this category include the local share of receipts from mineral leasing on acquired lands under the Taylor Grazing Act. These figures reflect payments as of 9/30/94; i.e., 11 months from FY94 plus 1 month from FY93.

Proceeds of Sales: This is the portion of receipts from the sale of public land and materials, including timber, that is shared with the States.

National Grasslands: This figure reflects the payment made directly to the State from revenues derived from National Grasslands. These figures include allocation of mineral receipts, which are collected by MMS, but transferred to BLM for disbursement. These figures reflect payments made in calendar year 1994 for receipts collected in calendar year 1993.

Mineral Royalties, Rents, & Bonuses: These figures reflect the net disbursement to the State of mineral receipts from Federal leases, including those on BLM-managed land. MMS collects receipts and makes disbursements. Payments are from revenues derived from Federal mineral leases, including leases for coal, geothermal, oil, and gas. These figures do not reflect disbursements from leases on acquired lands, including National Grasslands, which are included above under "National Grasslands."

BLM Investments in the State:

These figures represent FY94 funds appropriated by Congress for BLM-managed programs in each State. They do not include the MMS program costs for collection of mineral revenues. These figures identify appropriated funds, unless otherwise indicated.

Management of Lands and Resources (MLR): MLR appropriations fund a variety of programs, including mineral leasing programs, initiatives to protect wild horses and burros, recreational activities, as well as programs to improve land, soil, and water quality.

Land Acquisition: These funds are used to acquire land and to administer exchanges in accordance with the provisions of the Federal Land Policy and Management Act.

Range Improvements: The Range Improvement Fund is funded by the Federal share of grazing receipts, plus the Federal share of mineral receipts from leasing on acquired lands. Funds are used for the construction, purchase, and development of range improvements.

Construction & Access: These appropriations fund a variety of programs, including the construction of recreation facilities, roads, and trails.

Fire Management/Firefighting: "Prescribed Fire/Presuppression" shows appropriated funds. "Firefighting and Rehabilitation" shows actual expenditures (these do not include the leave surcharge). Only a portion of BLM funding for fire programs is identified here; BLM provides further funding through allocations to other Department of Interior agencies and to the Secretarial fund. Additionally, BLM funds firefighting activities through appropriations to the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, Idaho, and the National Training Center in Phoenix, Arizona.

Service Charges, Deposits, & Forfeitures: These funds are used for administrative expenses and other costs relating to public lands, including the processing of rights-of-way and other applications, and the Adopt-a-Horse-Program.

In addition to the services identified above, BLM disbursed money from the special and trust funds discussed above under "Federal Collections from BLM-Managed Lands and Minerals." In FY94, disbursements were as follows:

Other Investments in the State Derived in Part from BLM-Managed Lands and Minerals:

Reclamation Fund: These funds are appropriated annually by Congress; these figures do not include appropriations for Western Area Power Administration projects. Funding for the Reclamation Fund is derived from several sources, including 40 percent of the Federal share of mineral receipts, 76 percent of the Federal share of timber receipts from public and acquired lands in the "Reclamation States,"(2) 75 percent of the revenues from FLPMA land sales, and revenue from the sale of Power Marketing Administration power. In FY94, activities on BLM-managed land generated the following revenues for the Reclamation fund: $406 million from royalties on natural resources, $1 million from sale of timber and other products, $21 million from sale of public domain land.

Allocation of State Share of Federal Mineral Receipts:

Receipts from Federal mineral leases are shared with the State in which the leases are located. Many States have dedicated expenditures for these receipts, which are identified in this section.

Recreational Activity on BLM Managed Land:

BLM-managed lands offer a variety of recreational activities, including those provided by Wilderness Areas, National Conservation Areas, Wild and Scenic Rivers, and Back Country Byways. Data on the number of visitors to BLM-managed land in FY94 comes from BLM's Recreational Management & Informational System (RMIS). RMIS is a PC-based data base for compiling and monitoring key recreational management data for the BLM.(3) Recreational data is according to administrative state. Some recreational categories include several activities:

Hunting includes visitor data on hunting for big game, small game, upland bird, waterfowl, and trapping.

Photography, picnicking, etc., includes visitor data for caving, climbing, environmental education, gathering of noncommercial products, hang-gliding, interpretive exhibit viewing, nature study, rockhounding, viewing, and wind surfing.

Motorized travel includes visitor data for off-highway vehicles (OHVs), all-terrain vehicles (ATVs), motorcycling and dune buggy riding, and driving for pleasure on byways.

Hiking, backpacking, bicycling, etc., includes visitor data for road and mountain bicycling, walking/running, horseback riding, and pack trips.

Total Visitor Hours: This figure shows the total number of hours spent by visitors to BLM-managed land.

Total Visits: This figure shows the number of people visiting BLM-managed land for recreation. (The number of visits differs from the number of participants because people who visit public land may participate in more than one activity.)

Recreation data is derived from a number of different sources, including traffic counters, trail registers, visitor surveys, State reports, and highway census counts.

Revenue Generated by Selected Recreation Visits to BLM-Managed Land:

These figures identify the estimated economic value to the administrative state generated by hunting and wildlife-associated recreation visits to BLM-managed lands. Data is from "The 1991 National Survey of Fishing, Hunting and Wildlife-Associated Recreation;" revenues do not include income generated by skiing or fishing.

Wildlife-Associated Recreation: These include visits for camping, photography, picnicking, observing wildlife, etc.

Hunting Trips: These include visits to hunt deer, elk, waterfowl, and small game.


(1) In addition to these funds, Congress also makes annual appropriations for "Service Charges, Deposits, & Forfeitures", which are discussed more fully in the category "BLM Investment in the State."

(2) The 17 "Reclamation States" are all of the 48 contiguous states with land west of the 100th meridian: North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, New Mexico, Idaho, Utah, Arizona, Washington, Oregon, Nevada, and California.

(3) The visitor figures for FY94 are low because of inconsistencies resulting from transition to a new data collection system.

Thursday, May 23, 1996 at 2:21 PM