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U.S. Department of the Interior

Bureau of Land Management

Part 1


The total area of the 50 United States is 2.3 billion acres.  The first public domain was created in 1781 when New York agreed to surrender to the Federal government its claim to unsettled territory which extended westward to the Mississippi River.  Other colonies followed New York's example and, by 1802, all of the land west of the colonies between the Appalachian Mountains and the Mississippi River belonged to the Federal government.  In the course of National expansion from 1781 to 1867, the public domain rapidly grew beyond the bounds of the Appalachian West, with the Federal government acquiring over 1.8 billion acres of public domain lands.

Accurate surveys were needed before the new public lands could be identified for sale or other disposition.  In 1785, the Continental Congress adopted an ordinance setting up a survey system for the public domain lands.  The General Land Office (predecessor to the present-day Bureau of Land Management) was established to oversee the surveying and disposal of the public lands. Various public land laws were enacted by Congress to accomplish these disposals.  The land disposals built the country's economic foundation, opened the West to settlement, and united the vast expanses of land into one Nation.  To raise money to repay Revolutionary War debts and encourage settlement of new territories, the Federal government sold or granted vast tracts of public lands to settlers, homesteaders, veterans, towns, new States entering the Union, railroads, Agricultural and Mechanical colleges and universities, and private companies.  To date, over 1.1 billion acres of public lands have been transferred out of Federal government ownership.

Congress recognized the need to protect the Nation's natural, historical and cultural resources while providing opportunities for recreation.  Special acts withdrew millions of acres of public lands from settlement for National Parks, National Forests, National Monuments, National Wildlife Refuges, National Trails, and National Wild and Scenic Rivers.  Some of the widely known Congressional withdrawals include Yellowstone National Park, Grand Canyon National Park, and Death Valley National Monument.

Our expanding population and mobile society created a demand for a variety of public land uses. Changes in public attitudes and a concern for environmental values and open space began to compete with the need for development and increased production.   Congress recognized the value of the remaining public domain lands when it enacted the Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976 (FLPMA).  The Act declares that, with the exception of individual tracts that may be disposed of in the National interest, it is the policy of the United States to retain its public lands in Federal ownership.   The Act mandates that the Bureau of Land Management administer the public lands under the concept of multiple uses, while protecting the long-term health of the land.   Today, 264.2 million acres of public land, most of which lie west of the Mississippi, are all that remains of the Nation's original public domain.  The Bureau of Land Management is responsible for managing these lands and their various resources so that they are utilized in a manner that will best meet the present and future needs of this Nation.

Table 1-1, Acquisition of the Public Domain, contains summary data on territories acquired by the Federal government during the course of National expansion.  Thirty States commonly called the "public land States" were created as a result of these acquisitions (Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Florida, Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Indiana, Kansas, Louisiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Dakota, Utah, Washington, Wisconsin, and Wyoming).

Table 1-2, Disposition of the Public Lands, includes summary data for public lands disposed of by the Federal government.  Among the earliest disposal actions were grants of land to veterans of the Revolutionary War.  Later, grants were made to new States entering the union, as well as for the creation of Agricultural and Mechanical colleges and universities.  The Homestead Act permitted settlers to obtain land for agricultural purposes.  Grants were also made for the construction of railroads.   With the exception of the Desert Land Act of 1877 (which was amended), all of the land grant and disposal acts have been repealed or superseded by other acts.   Therefore, the data contained in this table is subject to little or no change.

Table 1-3, U.S. General Services Administration Table, Comparison of Federally Owned Land with Total Acreage by States, contains summary data on Federal lands in each State by method of acquisition and compares this acreage with the total land in the State.   The data is collected and compiled by the U.S. General Services Administration.

Table 1-4, Public Lands Under Exclusive Jurisdiction of the Bureau of Land Management, contains data on public lands in each State that are currently under the administrative jurisdiction of the Bureau of Land Management.

Table 1-5, Area of Oregon and California (O&C) Revested Lands, depicts data on revested (Oregon & California Railroad) lands and reconveyed (Coos Bay Wagon Road Company) lands. These lands are administered under the Oregon and California Revested Lands Sustained Yield Management Act of August 28, 1937 (50 Stat. 874), as amended by the Act of June 24, 1954
(68 Stat. 271).

Table 1-6, Withdrawals and Revocations, presents a compilation of withdrawals, revocations, and modifications that were administratively made by the Secretary of the Interior.  The withdrawals are for a specific duration that can vary from less than 1 year to 50 years, with a provision for extension if the withdrawal is still needed.

Table 1-7, Cadastral Survey Actions Completed, contains a summary of cadastral surveys completed on public lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management during the past year.   In order to effectively manage the public lands, areas must be identified both by graphic representation and by monumentation on the ground.  This is accomplished by cadastral surveys, an exclusive and major responsibility of the Bureau of Land Management.   These cadastral surveys create and establish ground boundaries of public land subdivisions in units suitable for management and for identification in official field notes and plats.  This table also summarizes cadastral surveys the Bureau of Land Management completed on lands managed by other Federal agencies.

Table 1-8, Obligations of Appropriations Received, contains a summary of obligations of appropriations made to the Bureau of Land Management during Fiscal Year 1999, as well as a summary of obligations of appropriations transferred from other bureaus and agencies to the Bureau of Land Management.  This table summarizes all funds that were obligated to manage BLM lands and assist other agencies.

 1-1  Acquisition of the Public Domain, 1781-1867 99pl1-1.pdf
 1-2  Disposition of Public Domain, 1781-1999 99pl1-2.pdf
 1-3  Comparison of Federally Owned Land with Total Acreage of States 99pl1-3.pdf
 1-4  Public Lands Under Exclusive Jurisdiction of the BLM 99pl1-4.pdf
 1-5  Area of Oregon and California (O&C) Revested Lands 99pl1-5.pdf
 1-6  Withdrawals and Revocations 99pl1-6.pdf
 1-7  Cadastral Survey Actions Completed 99pl1-7.pdf
 1-8  Obligations of Appropriations Received 99pl1-8.pdf

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