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.

Matter for Congressional Consideration

  1. Status: Closed

    Comments: Please call 202/512-6100 for additional information.

    Matter: Congress should, in consultation with BLM, amend the Land Policy and Management Act to require a long-range renewable resource program development process for BLM. Congress should also revise the 1872 Mining Law in accordance with recommendations made in the GAO report of February 27, 1979; consider modifying section 393 of the Land Policy and Management Act to authorize BLM employees to ticket persons violating Federal resource protection laws; and enact legislation which authorizes the Forest Service to sell or, in some instances, give away small, scattered land holdings which are too costly or impractical to administer properly. Further, Congress should review BLM and Forest Service staffing and funding levels and provide for a more realistic balance between the agencies' responsibilities and capabilities by either reducing responsibilities or appropriating more funds.

Recommendation for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed

    Comments: Please call 202/512-6100 for additional information.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Agriculture should direct the Forest Service to place greater emphasis on conflicts, interactions, and trade-offs among potential resource uses in future assessment and program updates. The Secretaries of Agriculture and the Interior should direct the Forest Service and BLM to set yearly production goals during the annual program and budget process which reflect changes in production capabilities as they occur. The Secretary of the Interior should direct BLM to adopt a policy for all resources similar to its policy on timber of guaranteeing access to potential developers by obtaining easements and rights-of-way. The Secretaries should direct the Forest Service and BLM to develop staffing and funding needs necessary to regulate users of public lands and maintain facilities and resources and present the needs to the Departments of Agriculture and the Interior for review and approval. Further, the Secretaries should direct BLM and the Forest Service to carefully monitor and evaluate management improvements which result from new workyear personnel ceilings after they have been in effect for a reasonable period and aggressively seek higher ceilings from the Office of Management and Budget if, in their judgments, the new ceilings fail to provide BLM and the Forest Service sufficient staff to adequately carry out their assigned land management responsibilities.

    Agency Affected:


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