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Highlights

GAO discussed the Bureau of Land Management's (BLM) public lands management activities. GAO found that: (1) although the public lands BLM historically administered were viewed as wastelands, decades of overgrazing and unregulated mining activities continued to deteriorate already badly damaged lands; (2) although Congress enacted policies that required BLM to maintain lands' productive capacity, BLM often placed the needs of livestock permittees and mine operators above the long-term health of the resources; (3) 60 percent of grazing allotments were in less than satisfactory condition; (4) BLM managers often thwarted restoration efforts when ranchers with grazing permits opposed the efforts and did not penalize permittees responsible for heavy damage in designated riparian recovery areas; (5) BLM rarely required bonds for mining operations of fewer than 5 acres or reclamation of the lands; (6) cost estimates for reclaiming hard rock mine sites in 11 western states totalled about $248 million; (7) BLM had not maintained wildlife habitats, protected endangered species, or equitably treated wild horses in devising approaches to reduce overgrazing; and (8) most BLM corrective actions resulted from congressional oversight or legal actions. GAO believes that BLM will have to abandon its historical administrative actions and make changes to: (1) reduce permitted levels of grazing on allotments where overstocking adversely affects the land; (2) enforce sanctions against permittees found guilty of trespassing or other abuses of their permits; and (3) require miners to post financial guarantees to ensure land reclamation.

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