Changes in Public Land Management Required To Achieve Congressional Expectations

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

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GAO reviewed the methods by which the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the Forest Service manage public lands and associated resources. Fundamental public land management policies and procedures have been prescribed by three comprehensive statutes. These policies require balancing three competing and usually conflicting basic objectives: using and developing resources, protecting and conserving resources, and maintaining the quality of the environment. They also require ensuring appropriate balance and diversity among resource uses.

Both agencies are having difficulty achieving the congressional expectations of producing the natural resources the Nation needs, while protecting the environment and conserving sufficient resources for the future. Production goals must account for limitations resulting from wilderness studies, environmental protection laws and programs, and lawsuits and administrative appeals. Because these events are usually unforeseen and are reflected in long-range goals, it is important for agencies to set annual goals reflecting such events as they occur. BLM does not have, nor is it legislatively required to have, long-range programs and quantified production goals for renewable resources. Consequently, 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 the Nation's public and private renewable resources and to develop a long-range program and goals for its lands. Many existing plans are inadequate because they are based on incomplete or obsolete resource inventory data or do not identify specific actions required to meet production goals while achieving environmental protection objectives. Under both agencies, natural resources have been damaged, stolen, and abused because of insufficient staffing and funding to protect them. Staff funds for both agencies have not kept pace with the number of responsibilities and tasks assigned to them. A continuing budgetary emphasis on certain resource management programs has hampered the balanced use and development of resources.

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