Land Use Issues

CED-80-108: Published: Jun 27, 1980. Publicly Released: Jun 27, 1980.

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The realization that land and its resources are limited has resulted in a shift in the approach to planning for and management of land use. In the past, land could be used for any purpose unless its use was prohibited by regulation or local zoning laws. This traditional approach often resulted in widespread abuse and waste. Urban sprawl, soil erosion, unrestored strip mined areas, and the destruction of historic, cultural, and esthetic sites are but a few examples of the traditional approach. Today, more and more government entities use comprehensive planning to resolve the problems of managing the Nation's land and related resources. However, major problems still exist over how best to use the land. With this in mind, GAO undertook an assessment of the problems that merit attention in land use planning, management, and control.

In its assessment, GAO found that the Federal Government plays a significant role in land use decisions by providing assistance for infrastructure investments. Thus, the Government has a responsibility to plan for the use of its land and can directly control the planning and use of about one-third of the Nation's land resources. However, many interrelationships between various land uses exist, and these interrelationships must be given appropriate consideration in the planning process. Managing public lands and renewable resources is a difficult process involving trade-offs between the conflicting issues of development and conservation. GAO also found that the Congress needs to consider other major issues such as: (1) the Federal Government's efforts to meet the outdoor recreation needs of Americans; (2) the managing and coordinating of land use in Alaska; (3) the effectiveness of the land use aspects of environmental planning programs; (4) making urban land use planning more effective; (5) the effectiveness of Federal efforts to control unauthorized uses of Federal land; (6) the equity and fairness of Federal programs to compensate State and local governments for Federal land tax immunity; and (7) the effectiveness of existing public land acquisition, disposal, and exchange authorities.

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