Managing Natural Resources
A variety of agencies are responsible for protecting our nation’s land and water natural resources. The management of these resources is largely characterized by the struggle to balance the demand for greater use of these resources with the need to conserve and protect them for the benefit of future generations.
The federal government owns and manages approximately 650 million acres of land in the United States—about 30 percent of the nation’s total surface area (see fig. 1).
Figure 1: Federal Lands Managed by the Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, Fish and Wildlife Service, and National Park Service
Four major federal land management agencies—the Department of Agriculture’s U.S. Forest Service and the Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Land Management (BLM), U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), and National Park Service—are responsible for managing about 95 percent of these lands and resources for a variety of uses. Specifically, BLM and the Forest Service manage federal land for activities such as recreation, timber harvesting, livestock grazing, oil and gas production, and mining. FWS is responsible for managing federal land primarily to conserve and protect fish, wildlife, and their habitat, among other compatible uses such as hunting and fishing. The National Park Service manages federal land to conserve, preserve, protect, and interpret the nation’s natural, cultural, and historic resources. In addition, Interior’s Bureau of Indian Affairs provides basic services to more than 560 federally recognized tribes, including natural resources management on Indian lands. (See figure 2 for land management distribution information.)
Figure 2: Distribution of land managed by the Forest Service and Interior land management agencies, including the Bureau of Indian Affairs
Other prominent federal agencies involved in natural resources management include the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), within the Department of Commerce, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (the Corps). NOAA works to conserve and protect natural resources through fisheries management, coastal restoration, and supporting marine commerce; development of daily weather forecasts and severe storm warnings; and ongoing climate monitoring and research. Under its Civil Works Program, the Corps plans, constructs, operates, and maintains a wide range of water resources projects, including efforts in the Everglades, the Louisiana coast, and along many of our nation’s major waterways. The Corps is also responsible for executing the cleanup of formerly used defense sites.
Natural resources management work related to federal lands and waters touches on many of these activities. Specifically,
- Federal land management, including recreation, timber harvesting, livestock grazing, wilderness and species protection, and wildland fire management;
- Water resources management, including wetland protection, coastal management, flood control, freshwater supply, and the link between water resources and energy production;
- Oceans and fisheries, including marine species protection, fisheries management, tsunami hazard mitigation, and marine aquaculture;
- Native American land management issues, including taking land in trust, irrigation, rights-of-way, and land claims.
- Mineral and other natural resource extraction on federal lands, including hardrock and coal mining as well as onshore oil and gas development.
GAO-16-166: Published: Dec 15, 2015. Publicly Released: Jan 14, 2016.
GAO-16-49: Published: Nov 30, 2015. Publicly Released: Nov 30, 2015.
GAO-15-394: Published: Apr 16, 2015. Publicly Released: Apr 16, 2015.
GAO-15-398: Published: Apr 9, 2015. Publicly Released: May 11, 2015.
GAO-14-699: Published: Aug 21, 2014. Publicly Released: Sep 22, 2014.
GAO-15-35: Published: Jan 16, 2015. Publicly Released: Feb 13, 2015.
GAO-13-475T: Published: Mar 19, 2013. Publicly Released: Mar 19, 2013.
GAO-13-351T: Published: Feb 14, 2013. Publicly Released: Feb 14, 2013.
GAO-13-189: Published: Jan 18, 2013. Publicly Released: Mar 13, 2013.
GAO-13-226: Published: Jan 4, 2013. Publicly Released: Jan 4, 2013.
GAO-13-111: Published: Oct 16, 2012. Publicly Released: Oct 16, 2012.
GAO-12-874: Published: Sep 5, 2012. Publicly Released: Oct 9, 2012.
GAO-12-640: Published: Jul 3, 2012. Publicly Released: Jul 3, 2012.
GAO-12-593: Published: Jun 6, 2012. Publicly Released: Jul 10, 2012.
GAO-12-740T: Published: May 10, 2012. Publicly Released: May 10, 2012.