Changes in Public Land Management Required To Achieve Congressional Expectations

CED-80-82: Published: Jul 16, 1980. Publicly Released: Jul 16, 1980.

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The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) does not have, nor is it legislatively required to have, long-range programs and quantified production goals for renewable resources such as timber, grazing forage, minerals, and energy. As a result, it has no realistic basis for determining the production levels necessary to meet its share of the nation's needs. The Forest Service is required to assess renewable resources, both public and private, and to develop a long-range program and goals for its lands. Production goals must account for limitations such as wilderness studies, environmental protection laws and programs, wild and scenic river designations, lawsuits and administrative appeals. It is important for the agencies to set annual goals which reflect such events as they occur. Meeting these goals will require comprehensive forest and rangeland management plans.

BLM is reluctant to adopt certain features of the program planning process required of the Forest Service. It believes certain of those requirements, particularly multidecade budgeting, may not be cost-effective or useful. GAO has no objection to a modified program process for BLM as long as it accomplishes the essential objectives and meets congressional needs. The plan should be reviewed by Congress and set forth in legislation. BLM and the Forest Service have recently finalized new more comprehensive land management planning and resource inventory procedures. If the procedures are followed, they should result in more specific plans based on more complete inventory data, improvements which GAO has advocated for several years. The new procedures are a step in the right direction and deserve the opportunity to be tested through application. Both BLM and Forest Service efforts to effectively manage their lands and resources have been seriously impaired by limited and variable staff and funds available. GAO feels that personnel ceilings are an ineffective substitute for responsible management and should be abandoned, but it believes that they will not be abandoned in the foreseeable future. The Office of Management and Budget maintains that its new system of work-year ceilings will alleviate management problems associated with current year-end ceilings and permit agencies to hire additional part-time employees. Practical application and careful measuring of resultant improvements by the agencies will be the best test of the new ceilings.

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