Federal Land Management:

Nonfederal Land and Mineral Rights Could Impact Future Wilderness Areas

RCED-87-131: Published: Jun 30, 1987. Publicly Released: Jul 14, 1987.

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In response to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the potential problems facing Congress in creating Bureau of Land Management (BLM) wilderness areas containing privately or state-owned land and mineral rights, focusing on the: (1) extent of nonfederal land and mineral rights in BLM wilderness study areas; (2) difficulties that BLM experienced due to nonfederal land and mineral rights in areas that Congress designated as wilderness; and (3) data that BLM is developing on nonfederal land and mineral rights to assist Congress in designating wilderness areas.

GAO found that: (1) about 455 of 860 BLM wilderness study areas contain privately or state-owned land and minerals that could be developed; (2) BLM assessed the mineral development potential in 374 study areas and estimated that some type of mineral development could occur in about 179 areas; (3) BLM will face the task of protecting the areas' wilderness characteristics without infringing upon the owners' property rights if development occurs in those areas; (4) BLM instructed its state offices to exclude, where possible, nonfederal lands when drawing the boundaries of the areas it will study and recommend for wilderness designation; and (5) BLM acknowledged that some areas recommended for wilderness designation will include nonfederal land and mineral rights because they are essential to the overall character of the proposed wilderness area. GAO also found that: (1) BLM wilderness coordinators in Arizona, New Mexico, and California expressed concern that Congress may designate wilderness areas before BLM completes its study process or expand the boundaries of its recommended wilderness areas, which could result in the need for BLM to acquire the land to prevent development; (2) BLM instructed its state offices to include information on the extent, development potential, and possible acquisition costs of nonfederal land in the documentation supporting BLM wilderness recommendations; (3) BLM information on state-owned land appeared to be accurate; and (4) BLM officials agreed to correct the deficiencies in its information on privately owned land.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: As of September 4, 1987, the Secretary of the Interior directed that the Office of Congressional and Legislative Affairs monitor any legislative proposal for BLM wilderness which include nonfederal land and minerals and report this information to Congress.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of the Interior should direct BLM to provide Congress with available analyses regarding such nonfederal land and mineral rights, for any wilderness legislative proposals being considered by Congress.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Interior

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: As of September 4, 1987, the Secretary of the Interior directed BLM to fully develop and include in final wilderness study reports information on private land and minerals.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of the Interior should require the Director, BLM, to ensure that all data are fully developed and included in the final wilderness study reports and other analyses supporting wilderness recommendations.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Interior

 

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