Federal Lands:

Reasons for and Effects of Inadequate Public Access

RCED-92-116BR: Published: Apr 14, 1992. Publicly Released: Apr 17, 1992.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the adequacy of public access to land managed by the Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), focusing on: (1) the extent of, effects of, and reasons for inadequate public access; and (2) methods of resolving access problems.

GAO sent a questionnaire to BLM and Forest Service units and found that: (1) about 50.4 million acres, or about 14 percent, of Service- and BLM-managed land in the contiguous 48 states lacks adequate public access; (2) private landowners cited such reasons for not granting the public access to cross their land as vandalism, liability, privacy, disagreements over the land's value, and lost profit opportunities; (3) respondents believe that such recreational activities as hunting, off-road vehicle use, hiking, and camping are most affected by the lack of public access; (4) management activities that are most affected by the lack of public access include construction, trail and off-road maintenance, wildlife habitat management, and law enforcement; and (5) the severity of public access problems varies by activity and geographic location. GAO also found that: (1) to resolve public access problems, the Service and BLM can acquire either all rights and interests associated with the land through purchase, donation, exchange, or condemnation, or acquire perpetual easements which limit controls over the land and are binding on succeeding owners; (2) between fiscal years 1989 and 1991, the Service and BLM acquired permanent, legal public access to about 4.5 million acres of federal land; and (3) as of October 1991, both agencies had about 3,300 actions pending to open another 9.3 million acres of Service and BLM land to the public.

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