Proposals to Merge the Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management: Issues and Approaches
Proposals to Merge the Forest Service
and the Bureau of Land Management:
Issues and Approaches
The Forest Service (FS) in the Department of Agriculture and the Bureau of
Land Management (BLM) in the Department of the Interior are both directed to
manage lands for multiple uses and sustained yields, but their unique histories have
led to different laws, regulations, practices, and procedures in managing resources.
The similar missions and neighboring and intermingled lands in separate Cabinet
departments have led to frequent proposals, dating back to 1911, to transfer one
agency to the other department or to consolidate them into one agency.
Proponents and critics cite various benefits and problems to a transfer or merger
of the agencies. General questions over the nature of the change — which agency,
if either, would remain and in which department — would affect the ramifications
of a transfer or merger. Commonly cited benefits of a merger are possibly improved
service to users and the public and greater efficiency in federal land management.
However, such benefits are likely only if the legal authorities governing BLM and FS
management and planning were consolidated, and this could be a daunting challenge.
Furthermore, institutional differences, congressional committee jurisdictions, and
compensation to state and local governments for the tax-exempt status of federal
lands would complicate a merger. In some locations, the agencies are implementing
a Service First program of joint facilities and cooperative management efforts as a
step toward more efficient federal land management.
The possibility of merging the BLM and FS has arisen most recently because of
concerns that high and growing expenditures on wildfire suppression are affecting
other land and resource management activities. A distinct, combined federal fire
suppression agency, separate from both the FS and the BLM, would reduce the
impact of wildfire costs on BLM and FS budgets, but wildfire is integral to most
wildland ecosystems, and a separate fire agency would likely emphasize suppression,
rather than management to reduce wildfire damages.
This report is an update of out-of-print CRS Report 95-1117, The Forest Service
and Bureau of Land Management: History and Analysis of Merger Proposals, by
Ross W. Gorte and Betsy A. Cody (1995).
Transfer or Merger: Options and Consequences..........................2
Service to the Public...........................................3
Legal and Political Considerations................................7
Consolidating the Laws.....................................7
Compensation for Tax-Exempt Federal Lands..................10
A U.S. Fire Service?..............................................12
Summary and Observations.........................................13
Appendix A: Historical Background on the Forest Service and the
Bureau of Land Management....................................16
Forest Service Funding....................................17
National Forest Management................................17
Other FS Programs........................................19
Bureau of Land Management....................................19
Taylor Grazing Act and the U.S. Grazing Service................20
The O&C Lands..........................................21
The Public Land Law Review Commission and the
Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976...........22
BLM Land Management...................................23
Appendix B: History of Transfer and Merger Proposals...................24
Taft and Wilson Administrations.............................24
Bush I Administration.....................................29
Proposals to Merge the Forest Service
and the Bureau of Land Management:
Issues and Approaches
Four federal agencies administer about 95% of the approximately 653 million
acres of federal land in the United States: the Forest Service (FS) in the Department
of Agriculture (USDA), and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), National Park
Service, and Fish and Wildlife Service in the Department of the Interior (DOI).1
These agencies manage the federal lands for a variety of purposes related to
preserving, conserving, and developing natural resources. Each agency has specific
statutory mandates and responsibilities for the lands it administers. (See Appendix
A for historical background on the agencies.)
The FS and BLM are both directed to manage their lands for multiple uses and
for sustained yields of resource outputs without impairing resource productivity.
Both agencies sell timber, permit or lease lands for livestock grazing, allow mineral
exploration and development in many areas, protect watersheds, manage wildlife
habitats, administer recreation uses, and preserve wilderness areas, although they
often have different rules and regulations governing these activities. The similarity
of their missions, the proximity of many of their lands and offices, and the existence
of only one major federal resource land manager outside of DOI (the FS) have led to
frequent proposals to transfer FS lands to DOI and to merge the BLM and FS. (See
Appendix B for a chronological description of these proposals.)
The possibility of transferring the FS to DOI and/or merging the FS and BLM
has gained some congressional attention. At an oversight hearing on wildfire
suppression costs on February 12, 2008, several Members of the House Committee
on Appropriations, Subcommittee on Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies
questioned whether reorganizing the wildfire and land management responsibilities
might be more cost-effective. The subcommittee also has asked the Government
Accountability Office (GAO) to assess the benefits and limitations of consolidating
the FS in DOI. News stories and other public commentaries have since raised the
possibility of a merger.2 In addition, some assert that wildfire suppression has
become such an overwhelming influence that the agencies are no longer effective at
1 This report is an update of out-of-print CRS Report 95-1117, The Forest Service and
Bureau of Land Management: History and Analysis of Merger Proposals, by Ross W. Gorte
and Betsy A. Cody (1995).
2 See, for example, Christopher Lee, “Forest Service May Move to Interior; Some See
Agency As Out of Place Under the USDA,” Washington Post (Mar. 25, 2008): p. A03; and
“Merge Forest Service into Interior?” The Antiplanner (Mar. 27, 2008), at [http://www.
achieving other goals and outputs,3 and thus a new “U.S. Fire Service” is perhaps
warranted. This report discusses potential benefits and limitations of merging the FS
and the BLM and assesses the ramifications of a separate U.S. Fire Service.
Appendixes provide historical background on the two agencies and on historical
transfer and merger proposals.
The FS and BLM have similar management responsibilities, and many issues
affect both agencies’ lands. However, each agency also has unique emphases and
functions. For instance, most federal rangelands are administered by the BLM, and
the BLM oversees mineral development on all federal lands. Most federal forests are
managed by the FS, and only the FS has programs to assist nonfederal landowners.
Also, development of the two agencies has differed, and historically they have
focused on different issues. Nonetheless, there are also many management parallels,
the lands are often intermingled, and the agencies sometimes have offices in the same
towns. These factors have led to sporadic discussions of consolidating the agencies.
Transfer or Merger: Options and Consequences
The historical efforts to move one of the agencies and possibly to merge the FS
and BLM suggest that numerous possibilities exist. The simplest option would be
to expand efforts to increase the number of offices and employees shared by the two
agencies. The agencies, as authorized in § 331 of the FY1998 Interior appropriations
act (P.L. 105-83) and subsequently extended, have initiated a cooperative program
known as Service First. It allows pilot tests of joint permitting and leasing programs,
reciprocal delegations of duties and responsibilities (e.g., having a BLM employee
conduct the cultural resource assessment for an FS timber sale), and co-locating
facilities. One advantage of this idea is that it is currently feasible; no new law would
be required to implement the option, although its authorization would need to be
extended beyond FY2008 and legislative support or direction could expand the
program. Another advantage is its simplicity for users — one office and one person
(“one-stop shopping”) for dealing with grazing or recreation permits, regardless of
the history of the lands. However, having individuals implementing two different
sets of laws, depending on the history of the land, could also confuse users and would
likely make the job more complex for employees. For example, a rancher with both
BLM and FS grazing permits could meet with one range conservationist, but have
different laws applied to the different permits. It could also increase contractual
difficulties and litigation if, for example, BLM grazing regulations were
unintentionally applied to a national forest grazing permit.
Agency transfers — FS to DOI or BLM to USDA — have been proposed in the
past. Such a transfer would presumably place both agencies under the purview of a
single Deputy or Under Secretary, of Agriculture or of Interior. The principal
advantage of a transfer would likely be greater inter-agency coordination and
3 See Randal O’Toole, Reforming the Fire Service: An Analysis of Federal Fire Budgets and
Incentives (Bandon, OR: The Thoreau Institute, July 2002), 53 pp.; and Robert H. Nelson,
A Burning Issue: A Case for Abolishing the U.S. Forest Service (Lanham, MD: Rowman &
Littlefield Publishers, Inc., 2000), 196 pp.
consistency in annual planning and budgeting, and in implementing common laws
and regulations (e.g., the Healthy Forests Restoration Act and the Federal Lands
Recreation Enhancement Act). However, such a transfer could only be effected by
enacting a law making the transfer. Congressional committee jurisdictions could
remain unaffected by a transfer; jurisdiction over FS lands and programs is already
split between the Agriculture and Natural Resources Committees, and FS funding is
under the jurisdiction of the Appropriations Subcommittees on Interior, Environment,
and Related Agencies. However, the departments might be less sanguine about the
possible loss of a major agency. The FS accounted for 6% of the FY2007 USDA
budget authority ($5.7 billion out of $93.6 billion) and 36% of FY2007 USDA staff
years (33,912 out of 94,818).4 The BLM accounted for 14% of the FY2007 DOI
budget authority ($2.3 billion out of $15.8 billion) and 16% of FY2007 DOI staff
years (10,577 out of 67,429).5 Presuming that a transfer would entail no change in
the legal mandates for administering the lands, such a transfer would probably have
relatively limited impact on land management or users, except through increased
inter-agency coordination and consistency. However, whether or not the legal
mandates are retained, consolidated, or merged and simplified is a critical issue,
Merging the agencies has also been proposed several times. (See Appendix B.)
The consequences of a merger depend partly on the nature of the merger: would the
FS and BLM both be merged into a new agency, or would one agency be absorbed
by the other? Would the merged agency be in DOI or in USDA, or would it be in a
new Cabinet department, possibly with energy and/or environmental agencies?
Because the ramifications of a merger would be more significant than a transfer or
some joint operations, the rest of this section discusses the possible impacts of a
merger on users, on the agencies, on the federal budget, and on political structures.
Service to the Public
A merger of the FS and the BLM possibly could improve the quality of the
agencies’ performance. The existence of two agencies, each managing federal lands
for multiple uses, has been regarded by some as inefficient and duplicative — two
agencies with two sets of laws, policies, and regulations are seen as leading to public
confusion and poor service. Differences between the agencies are especially graphic
when they promulgate different regulations under one law that applies to both, such
as the Federal Lands Recreation Enhancement Act or the Healthy Forests Restoration
Act. Merging the agencies would likely lead to a common set of laws, policies, and
regulations that might enhance service and reduce duplication (or at least the
appearance of duplication).
For certain resources — leasable and locatable minerals — a merger seems
likely to at least improve consistency in management decisions. BLM currently
4 U.S. Dept. of Agriculture, FY 2009 Budget Summary and Annual Performance Plan
(Washington, DC: 2008), pp. 89, 93.
5 This includes wildfire funding under BLM, rather than as a department-wide program as
is proposed for FY2009. U.S. Dept. of the Interior, Fiscal Year 2009 The Interior Budget
in Brief (Washington, DC: Feb. 2008), pp. A-1 to A-2, A-16, O-1.
administers the mineral activities on all federal lands, including the national forests.
FS responsibility in minerals management is limited to administering access and
surface land use. A merger would eliminate the current situation in which two
different agencies manage different aspects of the same resource on the national
Finally, merger proponents have asserted that consolidating federal multiple-use
land management in one agency could lead to a greater focus and higher priority for
land and resource management. Such an agency would have more comprehensive
authority and responsibility, and its proponents have argued that this would lead to
more effective control and more consistent direction. According to merger
supporters, concentrating federal multiple-use land management in one agency would
lead to formulation and implementation of a more comprehensive, effective national
natural resources policy.
Improvements in public service and resource management have long been
argued to be the principal benefits of such a merger. This has been a principal
motivation behind the Service First Initiative, described above. On the other hand,
some of the benefits of coordinated service and management efforts clearly do not
require a agency merger, since these benefits are already occurring without a merger.
It is unclear how many additional benefits could result from expanding the Service
First Initiative, and how many further benefits could only result from a merger.
Opponents, however, might maintain that a merger could reduce agency
responsiveness to public concerns. A merger would create a larger agency. This
could, arguably, stifle creativity and policy debates, because larger organization
typically establish uniform, standardized policies that inhibit individual worker
responsibility and creativity.6 Critics argue that the agencies are already
unresponsive to public interests, and that a merger would create a larger and even less
responsive bureaucracy. Furthermore, it is argued that the agencies should focus
their efforts on improving management and public service within their current
structures, rather than waste time trying to design “the perfect bureaucracy.”
The nature of the potential merger has particularly important ramifications for
the institutions and employees. The FS may well dominate a combined agency, since
it has more than three times as many employees as the BLM (33,912 to 10,577 in
FY2007) and more than double the budget ($5.72 billion to $2.27 billion in FY2007).
The FS administers more land in California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, and
Washington, while the BLM manages more land in Alaska, Nevada, New Mexico,
Utah, and Wyoming. In Arizona and Oregon, the acres managed by each agency are
about the same. In the Great Plains and eastward, the FS is clearly dominant.
Furthermore, the FS was traditionally seen as a more active land manager, because
timber management was more active (the FS initiates timber sales) than was minerals
management (the BLM typically responds to claim or lease activities). This may
6 See, for example, Jonathan Halls, “Organizational Environment: Does It Prevent or
Promote Innovation?” at [http://www.icecreativity.com/LeadingInno/OrgEnvironment.htm].
have changed in the past decade, with the decline in timber sales and increased
emphasis on energy production from federal lands.
The FS also historically had a vibrant esprit de corps.7 However, the FS image
has been tarnished by internal conflicts, best illustrated by the creation of the
independent Association of Forest Service Employees for Environmental Ethics in
1989. The successor organization — Forest Service Employees for Environmental
Ethics (FSEEE) — representing only current and retired FS employees, is an active
litigant on FS policies and programs, suggesting continuing internal dispute about
appropriate national forest management. Furthermore, various observers have
questioned whether the steep decline in FS timber sales has undercut agency support
with the wood products industry and on Capitol Hill.8
The BLM’s history contrasts with this pattern. Two observers have stated:9
The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) does not get much respect.
Unfortunately, the BLM was not nicknamed the “Bureau of Large Mistakes,”
“Bureau of Livestock and Mining,” and “Bureau of Lumbering and Mining”
without justification.... [It] still shows its parentage as either partner or
handmaiden to exploiter interests.
The BLM started from (1) the demise of the U.S. Grazing Service at the hands
of the ranchers and their congressional allies,10 and (2) the non-managerial public
domain overseer, the General Land Office. Building a coherent, effective agency
from such beginnings would have been a difficult challenge, at best. Nonetheless,
critics recognize that the BLM has built an effective organization for its role as a
federal land manager.11
A BLM-FS merger might disrupt programs, offsetting the possibly enhanced
services (discussed above). In the short run, employees would need to learn the new
laws, regulations, and policies as well as new operating procedures and practices. If
the BLM were merged into the FS, BLM employees would have to learn FS laws,
regulations, policies, procedures, and practices; the reverse would be true if the FS
were merged into the BLM. And if a new agency were created, everybody would
have to learn the new laws, regulations, policies, procedures, and practices. A merger
could lead to internal conflicts between previously-FS and previously-BLM staff,
because of differing views over federal policies and obligations with respect to users.
However, the agencies have become less disparate over time, probably making a
merger less disruptive today than it might have been decades ago.
7 See Herbert Kaufman, The Forest Ranger: A Study in Administrative Behavior, Resources
for the Future (Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins Press, 1960), 259 pp.
8 See various chapters in A Vision for the U.S. Forest Service: Goals for Its Next Century,
Roger A. Sedjo, ed. (Washington, DC: Resources for the Future, 2000), 273 pp.
9 Andy Kerr and Mark Salvo, “A New Name and Mission for the Bureau of Land
Management,” at [http://www.andykerr.net/ConservPolicy/NewBLM.html].
10 Gates, History of Public Land Law Development, pp. 617-622.
11 Kerr and Salvo, “A New Name and Mission for the BLM.”
A merger also could cause morale problems. The personnel of the agency that
is absorbed, or of both if a new agency is created, may feel a loss of identity, since
many workers’ sense of worth is linked to their organizations.12 Retirements,
transfers, reassignments, job losses, and the like might result from a merger, as the
post-merger employees may not match the post-merger agency requirements. Such
actions could exacerbate the possible morale problems.13
Alternatively, creating a new agency may offer new opportunities for agency
employees to help shape the future of natural resource management. Retirement of
long-term employees that help maintain traditional agency cultures could allow
newer, younger employees (often with different education and experience) greater
prospects for creating a new future. A new agency, with revised legal authorities and
guidance (as discussed below), might provide a chance to blend differences into a
coherent, cohesive organization, with a common vision of the future.
Reducing costs by eliminating duplicative personnel and offices is one of the
primary benefits cited in most merger proposals. The Carter Administration had
estimated the benefits of its Department of Natural Resources proposal at $100
million annually, but did not provide details about how these savings would be
achieved.14 In 1984, the General Accounting Office (now Government Accountability
Office) reported that 64 locations had both BLM and FS offices, and estimated that
combining these offices could save $33.5 million annually.15 Inflation over the
intervening years would likely lead to higher estimates today, although some of those
savings might already have been achieved under the Service First initiative.
Another benefit commonly cited by proponents is the creation of a more
efficient and effective structure for managing federal lands and resources, by merging
duplicative efforts. The two agencies have nearly identical missions: each
inventories its lands and resources, plans and then acts to provide for use and
protection of the lands and resources, and monitors the consequences of actions and
uses. Especially in areas with intermingled, adjoining, or neighboring lands, these
functions arguably could be more efficiently conducted by a larger single entity than
by separate agencies.
A merger could lead to some higher costs, at least in the short-term. There
would be implementation costs, associated with changing signs, logos, letterhead,
12 Tom Fryers, “Work, Identity and Health,” Clinical Practice and Epidemiology in Mental
Health, v. 2 (2006), [http://www.pubmedcentral.nih.gov/articlerender.fcgi?artid=1501011].
13 Fryers, “Work, Identity and Health.”
14 Information cited from out-of-print CRS Report 79-79 ENR, Proposed Department of
Natural Resources: A Summary and Analysis, by Susan R. Abbasi, available from Ross
15 U.S. General Accounting Office, Program to Transfer Land Between the Bureau of Land
Management and the Forest Service Has Stalled, GAO/RCED-85-21 (Washington, DC:
GPO, Dec. 27, 1984), 51 p.
uniforms, and the like. (Creating a new agency would have greater short-term
implementation costs than moving one agency into the other.) There may be some
personnel and planning costs from eliminating redundant positions and from the
transfers necessary to have the right people in the right locations. Buildings and
other facilities and equipment might be redundant, and need to be sold (which would
generate revenues, but might require expenditures to be prepared for sale).
Others argue that reducing duplication does not necessarily lead to greater
efficiency. Duplication may appear costly, but both economic theory and business
practice suggest that the competition drives efficiency.16 This explains why firms
develop several products for the same market — to compete internally as well as
against other firms. If a BLM-FS merger reduced duplication, it also might eliminate
the potential competition that could be used to improve efficiency. This presumes,
of course, that the agencies feel that they are competing against each other and that
analysts (external and internal) compare different agency practices and procedures
to assess their relative efficiency and propose improvements.
Legal and Political Considerations
Numerous legal and political ramifications could complicate a BLM-FS merger.
These considerations include consolidating the laws, congressional jurisdictions,
agency structures, and compensation for the tax-exempt status of federal lands.
Consolidating the Laws. Merging the FS and the BLM would probably
provide few benefits if the combined agency continued to administer two different
sets of laws, applying to different, often adjacent landholdings. Thus, an agency
merger necessarily raises the question of consolidating the legal authorities for the
Merging FS and BLM legal authorities could be a difficult task. The Public
Land Law Review Commission took six years to complete its review, producing its
recommendations in a 342-page volume (plus 39 separately-bound background
documents), and it only addressed the public domain lands. The FS publishes a17
volume with the general laws governing FS management; the 1978 edition was 1
inch thick, while the 1993 edition is 2½ inches thick. The volume has not been
updated in 15 years, and does not include the multitude of laws providing site-
specific management direction.
Furthermore, congressional management direction for specific sites seems to
have proliferated in recent years. Designated BLM sites (in addition to wilderness
areas and wild and scenic rivers) include 15 national monuments, 13 national
conservation areas, a national recreation area, a cooperative management and
16 See, for example, Lester C. Thurow, The Zero-Sum Society: Distribution and the
Possibilities for Economic Change (New York, NY: Basic Books, 1980) 230 pp.; and
Thomas J. Peters and Robert H. Waterman, Jr., In Search of Excellence: Lessons from
America’s Best-Run Companies (New York, NY: Harper & Row, 1982), 360 p.
17 U.S. Dept. of Agriculture, Forest Service, The Principal Laws Relating to Forest Service
Activities (Washington, DC: GPO).
protection area, an “outstanding natural area,” and a forest reserve.18 Designated FS
sites include 21 national game refuges and wildlife preserves, 20 national recreation
areas, 6 national scenic areas, 4 national monuments, 3 special management areas,
2 national botanical areas, 2 national volcanic monuments, 2 national protection
areas, a primitive area, a scenic research area, a national historic area, a recreation
management area, and a scenic recreation area,19 plus a few more congressionally
designated areas not listed in the agency’s lands report.20
A consolidation of federal land law could result in two possible outcomes. One
is that existing laws could be largely retained, extended to the additional lands, and
where duplicative or contradictory revised to provide consistent direction. The result
would likely be a tome on federal multiple-use laws larger than the current FS
volume. Alternatively, federal multiple-use land law could be completely revised to
simplify management guidance that has evolved piecemeal over a century or more
for the two existing agencies. The latter might be a more difficult task, as simpler
legislative direction often yields greater agency discretion, which could lead to more
objections and disputes among interest groups.
Differences in federal water rights between the national forests and the BLM’s
public lands would further complicate a merger. Federal reserved water rights are
associated with reserves, such as the national forests, dating from the creation of the
reservation.21 In contrast, BLM often does not have federal reserved water rights,
because the lands were never “reserved.” Presuming that a merger would retain such
historical reservations, issues regarding federal reserved water rights — on which
lands they exist and with what priority dates — could complicate any BLM-FS
merger proposal or subsequent merged agency management.
Congressional Jurisdictions. Congressional jurisdictional issues could
complicate merging the FS and BLM legal authorities. The Natural Resources
Committees have jurisdiction over the BLM and the public lands and over the forest
reserves/national forests created from the public domain. However, the Agriculture
Committees have jurisdiction over acquired forest lands and over forest management
generally, as well as over forestry assistance and forest research. Which
committee[s] gets jurisdiction over a particular bill depends in large measure on how
the bill is drafted — is it public lands legislation or a forest management bill?
Furthermore, the referrals are not always consistent; for example, the Secure Rural
Schools and Community Self-Determination Act of 2000 (H.R. 2389; P.L. 106-393)
18 U.S. Dept. of the Interior, Bureau of Land Management, Public Land Statistics, 2006,
(April 2007), at [http://www.blm.gov/pgdata/etc/medialib/blm/wo/Business_and_Fiscal_
19 U.S. Dept. of Agriculture, Forest Service, Land Areas Report (LAR) — as of Sept 30,
20 Information cited from out-of-print CRS Report 88-571 ENR, Special Management Areas
in the National Forest System, by Ross W. Gorte (1988); available from Ross W. Gorte (7-
21 For background information, see CRS Report RL30809, The Wild and Scenic Rivers Act
and Federal Water Rights, by Cynthia Brougher.
was reported by the House Agriculture Committee and discharged from the House
Resources Committee before passage, but was not even referred to the Senate
An agency transfer does not necessitate a change in congressional jurisdiction,
and committee jurisdictions can change without any change in the structure of the
executive branch. The then-Public Lands Committees retained jurisdiction over the
forest reserves after they were transferred to USDA to create the FS. Jurisdiction
over FS funding was transferred from the Appropriations Subcommittee on
Agriculture to the Subcommittee on Interior and Related Agencies (now Interior,
Environment, and Related Agencies) in 1955, with Members (including the Speaker
of the House) noting that the change was for the convenience of Congress and was
not intended to suggest an executive restructuring. However, an agency merger
would be more significant than a transfer, and keeping committee jurisdictions
distinct could be difficult. At a minimum, both the Agriculture and Natural
Resources Committees would be involved in any modification of FS and/or BLM
authorizations to effect a merger.
Agency Structure. Not surprisingly, since they were created at different
times by different people, the FS and the BLM are organized differently. The FS is
organized around the 156 national forests, as proclaimed by the various presidents
and modified for administrative simplicity. Each forest has one to seven or more
ranger districts (administered by a district ranger) for implementing activities on the
ground. The national forests, administered by forest supervisors, are organized into22
nine regional offices. Two regions are composed substantially or entirely of the
forests in one state (Region 5 — California and Hawaii; and Region 10 — Alaska);
two more are substantially composed of the forests in two states (Region 3 —
Arizona and New Mexico; and Region 6 — Washington and Oregon). In addition,
two states are divided between regions (Idaho in Region 1 and Region 4; and
Wyoming in Region 2 and Region 4).
In contrast, BLM is organized into 12 state offices. (BLM lands in the State of
Washington are administered by the Oregon State Office.) BLM lands and federal
minerals in the other 38 states are administered by a single Eastern States Office.
BLM lands are organized into resource areas administered by field offices. Some
field offices (in Arizona, Idaho, and Oregon) report to district offices, which report
to the BLM state offices. Other field offices (in Colorado, Montana, Nevada, Utah,
and Wyoming) report directly to the state office. In the other states (Alaska,
California, and New Mexico), some field offices report directly to the state office and
others report to a district office that reports to the state office.
The state-based BLM organizational structure has provided the agency with a
simple and direct means of responding to and working with governors and state
congressional delegations. This has probably made the BLM more sensitive to state-
level issues than the FS, but this could be at the cost of relatively less sensitivity to
local and national issues. A merger likely would lead to a consistent regional and
22 The regions are numbered 1 through 10, but Region 7 was terminated in 1966, with the
forests being reorganized between Regions 8 and 9.
local organizational structure, but it is unclear what that structure would be, and the
choice of structure (and the terminology for the units and administrators) could have
a significant effect on the effectiveness of the post-merger agency.
Compensation for Tax-Exempt Federal Lands. Federal lands are
exempt from taxation by state and local governments. If the lands were privately
owned, the landowners would pay various types of taxes — sales, property, income,
severance, yield, or other taxes — to state and local governments, depending on the
state and local tax structures. The federal government, however, is exempt from such
A variety of programs have been enacted to compensate units of government —
primarily counties — for tax-exempt federal lands. The oldest compensation
program is the FS payment of 25% of gross receipts from timber sales and other
revenue sources to the states for use on roads and schools in the counties where the
national forests are located.23 This program was temporarily (FY2001-FY2006)
replaced by the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act of
2000 (P.L. 106-393), at the discretion of each county.24 The program expired at the
end of FY2006, but one additional year’s payments were enacted in the FY2007
emergency appropriations act (P.L. 110-28), and possible reauthorization continues
to be debated. If the program expires, payments return the 1908 formula of 25% of
gross receipts. Because the P.L. 106-393 program was based on historical payments,
the decline from returning to 25% of receipts will likely vary widely.
Other compensation programs vary widely, depending on the history and
location of the lands, the source of the receipts, and the specific legal authority25
involved. For example, states and counties get 50% of mineral receipts from public
domain lands — except in Alaska, which receives 90% — but only 4% of land and
materials receipts (e.g., land or timber sales), and 12½% of grazing receipts within
grazing districts (§3 lands under the Taylor Grazing Act) and 50% of grazing receipts
outside grazing districts (§15 lands) — except in Alaska, which receives 100% of
grazing receipts in excess of administrative costs. The counties are allocated 75%26
of receipts from the O&C lands, except that up to a third is used by the BLM for
roads and reforestation, so the counties actually get 50% of receipts — except that
the O&C counties received payments under the Secure Rural Schools and
Community Self-Determination Act of 2000 for FY2001-FY2007. The counties
containing the Coos Bay Wagon Road lands similarly are allocated 75%, with a third
23 Act of May 23, 1908; 16 U.S.C. § 500.
24 See CRS Report RL33822, The Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination
Act of 2000: Forest Service Payments to Counties, by Ross W. Gorte.
25 U.S. Dept. of the Interior, Bureau of Land Management, “Table 3-31. Legal Allocation
of Bureau of Land Management Receipts, Fiscal Year 2006,” Public Land Statistics, 2006
(April, 2007), at [http://www.blm.gov/pgdata/etc/medialib/blm/wo/Business_and_Fiscal_
Resources/2006_pls.Par.75530.File.dat/Part_3.pdf], pp. 98-112.
26 The O&C lands are lands revested in federal ownership by federal law in 1916, because
of the failure of the Oregon and California Railroad to fulfill the terms of its land grant. See
Appendix A for more details.
for BLM roads and reforestation, but limited to the actual tax assessment. In Nevada,
the states and counties get 15% of land sale receipts for sales under four specific land
sale authorities. Counties with Bankhead-Jones lands get 12½%, 25%, or 50% of
receipts, depending on several Executive Orders, a Comptroller General’s Decision,
and a DOI Solicitor’s Opinion. States and counties containing Bureau of
Reclamation lands and the Naval Petroleum and Oil Shale Reserve get no payments.
Several other special land designations (e.g., state selected lands except Alaska, Coos
Bay Wagon Road lands, town sites on Reclamation lands, “south half of Red River,
Oklahoma,” and more) provide varying payments, generally ranging from 0%-50%
In addition to these mandatory spending compensation programs for specific
lands, Congress enacted the Payments In Lieu of Taxes (PILT) Act27 to compensate
counties for most tax-exempt federal lands. PILT payments to counties are based on
a complicated formula, basically based on the acreage of “entitlement” lands in the
county (most, but not all, federal lands) and annually inflation-adjusted per-acre
payments, but limited by county population and reduced by payments under many
other county compensation programs (such as FS 25% receipt-sharing, O&C 50%
receipt-sharing, and Secure Rural Schools payments).28 However, PILT requires
annual appropriations for the program. Since PILT appropriations have been less
than the calculated total payments in recent years, counties have been receiving
proportionally less than the calculated payments.
In theory, few object to fair and consistent compensation to state and local
governments for the tax-exempt status of federal lands. The political difficulty lies
in determining what is “fair and consistent.” Consistent could have two different
meanings in this context. To some, it would mean guaranteed payments —
mandatory spending — regardless of federal budget difficulties or appropriations
shortfalls. This has been sought in reauthorizing the Secure Rural Schools
legislation, but is difficult because the Budget Act requires bills with mandatory
spending to be offset with additional revenues or reductions in other mandatory
spending; neither has been found in the ongoing reauthorization debate, and would
likely not be any easier for a new “consistent” compensation program. Consistent
also could mean predictable. Compensation programs based on receipts can cause
annual payments to fluctuate widely; plus or minus 50% from year to year is not
unheard of for FS payments. Some have proposed basing payments on a 5- or 10-
year rolling average of receipts to moderate payment fluctuations. Such a change in
approach would likely be easier to enact than mandatory spending.
“Fair” compensation is difficult to determine, because different states and local
governments rely on different funding mechanisms — sales taxes (based on gross
receipts), property taxes (based on land values), income taxes (based on net receipts),
and more. Choosing any one compensation system would be inherently unfair to
some jurisdictions, because it would likely under- or overcompensate compared to
taxation of private landowners. Similarly, choosing any one rate — be it a fixed
27 P.L. 94-565; 31 U.S.C. §§ 1601-1607.
28 See CRS Report RL31392, PILT (Payments in Lieu of Taxes): Somewhat Simplified, by
M. Lynne Corn.
amount per acre (like PILT) or a fixed rate per unit of value — would also be unfair
to some jurisdictions, because tax rates differ; if, for example, the citizens of
Michigan willingly tax their own properties at a higher rate than the citizens of
Oregon, should they not also be compensated at a higher rate for the tax-exempt
federal lands in their state?
An agency merger could be effected without modifying the current complex
systems for compensating state and local governments for the tax-exempt status of
federal lands. Given the political difficulties in determining “fair and consistent”
compensation, trying to “rationalize” the compensation system effectively might
prevent a merger from occurring. However, revising the laws guiding federal
multiple-use resource management would be an opportunity to consider revising the
laws compensating state and local governments.
A U.S. Fire Service?
The high and rising cost of wildland fire management by the FS and DOI and
coordinated efforts to produce and maintain a National Fire Plan since 2000 have led
some to consider whether a separate, independent wildland fire management agency
might be more efficient and effective for wildfire tasks while leaving the FS and
BLM to their traditional multiple-use resource management roles.
Total FS and DOI appropriations for wildland fire management have averaged
$3.10 billion annually since FY2003, with the highest appropriations ever — $3.5529
billion — for FY2008. This is a substantial rise from the $1.09 billion averaged
annually for FY1994-FY1999. Also, the share of the total budget allocated to wildfire
management has increased substantially. For FY1994-FY2000, wildfire suppression
accounted for 31% of FS discretionary funding. Since FY2001, fire suppression
costs have accounted for 44% of FS discretionary funding, rising to 48% in FY2007.
More importantly, rising wildfire suppression costs are affecting other FS
programs. Both agencies have the discretion to borrow unobligated funds from other
accounts for emergency wildfire suppression expenditures. This effectively provides
them with open-ended appropriation reprogramming authority for limited purposes.
Before FY2000, such borrowing authority had little impact on FS programs. The
BLM can borrow from any DOI accounts; while fire was 42% of BLM discretionary
appropriations in FY2007, it was only 5% of total DOI discretionary funding. Thus,
borrowing has had, and still has, relatively minor impacts on DOI programs.
The FS situation is different. Historically, the FS borrowed funds primarily
from its mandatory spending accounts, particularly the Knutson-Vandenberg (K-V)
Fund. This account accumulated deposits from timber purchasers to reforest and
otherwise improve timber in timber sale areas. Because of the lag between timber
payments and reforestation, the K-V Fund often had a balance of about $500 million
— more than enough to borrow for emergency fire suppression without impinging
on one season’s tree planting efforts. However, since FY2000, emergency wildfire
29 See CRS Report RL33990, Wildfire Funding, by Ross W. Gorte.
suppression costs have risen, while the K-V Fund is much smaller (because of much
lower timber sales since 1990). Thus, the FS has had to borrow funds from other FS
accounts — land and easement purchases, recreation and wildlife management, and
more. These rising borrowings, even when repaid in subsequent supplemental or
Interior appropriations acts, affect program implementation, because they create
uncertainty in the availability of funds. Hence, legislation to insulate agency
appropriations from emergency fire suppression funding has been introduced in the
Some suggest that the fire suppression funding issue is sufficiently severe to
warrant a separate agency for wildfire management. They maintain that this would
allow the FS and BLM to focus on resource management, and prevent wildfire
emergencies from infringing on funding for other programs. In a sense, DOI has
taken a step in this direction. In his FY2009 budget request, the President proposed
moving wildland fire management funding from the BLM budget to DOI
Department-wide Programs. This reflects the current situation, where about 40% of
BLM wildfire funding is transferred to other DOI agencies (National Park Service,
Fish and Wildlife Service, and Bureau of Indian Affairs), and would help BLM to
preserve funding for other programs. Such a shift — separating the funding without
separating the program — is less feasible for the FS.
A separate federal wildfire agency could have some significant drawbacks.
Most important, separating fire management from land and resource management
would make coordinating wildfire with the resources that depend on fire more
difficult. Wildfire is an integral element in most temperate ecosystems; some
resources (e.g., certain plant and animal species) rely on wildfire and burned areas
for regeneration and habitat. In addition, a wildfire agency would likely focus on fire
control, largely because acres burned are the most readily measureable performance
standard and because actively burning wildfires draw congressional, public, and
media attention. Wildfire management activities that seek to reduce damages, such
as protecting individual structures and reducing biomass fuels, are less likely to be
emphasized by a wildfire suppression agency.
The FS and BLM have been responding to wildfire ecological and cost concerns
by developing appropriate management response and wildland fire use practices.
Appropriate management response is an approach that treats each wildfire
individually using a broad array of tactical responses, from monitoring fire behavior
and progress to aggressive suppression efforts, considering the wildfire’s threat to
lives and property and the management goals for the area. Wildland fire use is
managing naturally occurring wildfires within predetermined areas to provide
resource benefits (and reduce suppression costs) while assuring minimal threats to
people and property.
Summary and Observations
The Forest Service (FS) in the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the
Bureau of Land Management (BLM) in the Department of the Interior (DOI) are both
directed to manage their lands for multiple uses and for sustained yields of resource
outputs without impairing resource productivity. Both agencies sell timber, permit
or lease lands for livestock grazing, allow mineral exploration and development in
many areas, protect watersheds, manage wildlife habitats, administer recreation uses,
and preserve wilderness areas, although they have different rules and regulations
governing these activities. The similarity of missions, the proximity of lands and
offices, and their existence in separate Cabinet departments have led to frequent
proposals to transfer one agency to the other department and/or to merge the BLM
and the FS.
The FS was created in 1905, when Congress transferred the forest reserves
(renamed national forests in 1907) from DOI to USDA and merged the Forestry
Division of DOI’s General Land Office with USDA’s larger Bureau of Forestry. The
BLM was created in 1946, by a merger of the DOI Grazing Service and the General
Land Office. Despite the similarity of their missions, the agencies have developed
independently because of their substantially different creations and evolution.
Proposals to transfer the FS to DOI or the BLM to USDA, or to merge the FS
and BLM (or its predecessor), date back to 1911, and have been made under
Presidents Taft, Harding, Hoover, Roosevelt, Truman, Eisenhower, Nixon, Carter,
and Clinton. In an attempt to improve administration of the federal lands, President
Reagan proposed an substantial exchange (consolidation) of lands and personnel
between the agencies, but even this more limited reorganization was prevented by
Proponents and critics have cited various benefits and problems associated with
transferring the agencies or merging the BLM and the FS. General questions involve
the nature of the merger — would one agency absorb the other, or would a new
agency be created; would the agency be in USDA, DOI, or a new department, or
possibly be an independent agency? Answers to these questions affect the likely
consequences of a merger.
Improved service to the public has been touted as a reason for merging the
agencies. Proponents argue that a single federal multiple-use resource agency could
provide uniform practices and procedures, reduce public confusion, and establish a
comprehensive federal natural resources policy. Critics counter that a merger could
stifle creativity and public policy debates by creating a larger, less responsive
A merger would necessarily have substantial effects on the institutions. The FS
might well dominate, since it has three times as many employees and three times as
large a budget while administering nearly as much land outside Alaska. The FS was
historically perceived to be a more active manager with greater espirit de corps,
because it initiates timber activities, where the BLM often responds to minerals
activities initiated by others. However, the BLM has been improving in these areas,
while the FS image has become tarnished by internal conflict. Furthermore, the
decline in timber sales and increased emphasis on energy production from federal
lands in the past decade has brought the management styles of the two agencies
closer together. Thus, a merger might be less disruptive than it might have been a
few decades ago. However, the necessary transfers and adjustments might disrupt
programs and hurt employee morale, while varying practices and procedures could
prove difficult to merge. On the other hand, a new agency could offer an opportunity
for employees to help shape the future of federal natural resources management and
Lower costs are commonly cited as reasons for a merger. Costs would allegedly
be reduced by eliminating duplicative personnel and offices, leading to greater
management efficiency. However, there would be short-term implementation costs,
for altering signs and letterheads, for transferring people to where they are needed,
and more. Furthermore, economic theory and business practice suggest that
competition drives efficiency; eliminating duplication might also eliminate the
potential efficiency-producing interagency competition, assuming the agencies and
analysts compared agency practices to uncover efficiencies. In addition, the agencies
may already be achieving some of these efficiencies through the Service First
A merger would probably provide limited benefits if the legal authorities
governing FS and BLM management and planning were not also merged. However,
a merger of legal authorities could be difficult. The plethora of laws and regulations
governing agency processes and practices would have to be consolidated. The laws
could be extended to additional areas, with modifications to eliminate redundancy
and contradictions, or could be simplified to provide direct, coordinated legal
guidance to replace the incremental legislative direction of the past century. The
former would likely be easier; the latter would be shorter and clearer, but probably
more difficult to achieve because of concerns among the various interest groups.
Federal reserved water rights for some areas could complicate the legal consolidation.
Jurisdictional issues within Congress — the Natural Resources Committees have had
jurisdiction over the BLM and public lands, but the Agriculture Committees have
been the principal actors in FS and national forest issues — could complicate the
issue. Differing agency organizational structures, with the key FS organization by
national forests and the BLM largely structured around state offices, could also
constrain consolidation. Finally, the complex array of programs to compensate state
and local governments for the tax-exempt status of federal lands might impede efforts
to create one consistent federal multiple-use resource management agency.
Recent questions about a possible merger have been raised because of concerns
that wildfire suppression costs are impeding federal multiple-use management. One
newly suggested option would be creating a separate federal wildfire agency from the
wildland fire management organizations within the FS and the BLM. This would
allow the agencies to refocus management efforts on non-fire activities and would
insulate program budgets from emergency borrowing to suppress wildfires.
However, it would also separate wildfire management from other land and resource
management, even though wildfire is integral to most temperate ecosystems. The
agencies are responding to cost and ecological concerns by developing “appropriate
management responses” to wildfires, with actions ranging from monitoring fires
(“wildland fire use” to achieve management goals) through aggressive suppression,
depending on resource benefits and the values at risk.
Historical Background on the Forest Service
and the Bureau of Land Management
The USDA Forest Service and DOI Bureau of Land Management have similar
management responsibilities and often intermingled or neighboring lands. However,
each agency also has unique emphases and functions, often reflecting their different
creations and evolutions. This appendix provides historical background to help
explain differences between the agencies.
The FS is an agency in the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The first federal
funding for forestry — an 1876 study of western forest conditions — was attached
to an Agriculture appropriations bill, because a bill authorizing such a study had
stalled in the House Public Lands Committee. Permanent federal forestry funding
began in 1881, when Congress established the USDA Division of Forestry. The
division initially focused on providing information to Congress and the public about
the condition of U.S. forests. The mission evolved over the succeeding decades to
providing forestry assistance to states and private forestland owners. The division
grew slowly, and was upgraded to the Bureau of Forestry in 1901.
Forest Reserves. In 1891, Congress granted the President the authority to
establish forest reserves from the existing public domain lands under DOI
jurisdiction.30 Initially, the forest reserves were administered by a Division of
Forestry in the DOI General Land Office, because the office (one predecessor of the
BLM) was responsible for the public domain from which the reserves were created.
This office administered the forest reserves for 14 years, during which time the
reserves were increased to 56 million acres and the first federal commercial timber
sales were made.
In 1898, Gifford Pinchot became chief of the USDA Division of Forestry. He
argued that USDA’s forestry expertise warranted control over the forest reserves, but
instead was directed to consult with the DOI Division of Forestry. However,
Pinchot’s influence on federal forestry increased when his close personal friend,
Theodore Roosevelt, became the U.S. President in 1901. It took Pinchot and
Roosevelt nearly four years to convince Congress of the wisdom of transferring the
forest reserves to USDA. Interestingly, DOI Secretary Ethan Allen Hitchcock and
Land Commissioner W. A. Richards supported the transfer of the lands to USDA.3132
In 1905, Congress enacted the Transfer Act to shift the responsibility for
administering the reserves to USDA and to merge DOI’s Division of Forestry with
30 Section 24 of An Act to Repeal Timber-Culture Laws, and For Other Purposes, Act of
Mar. 3, 1891; 16 U.S.C. § 471 (repealed).
31 Paul W. Gates, History of Public Land Law Development, written for the Public Land Law
Review Commission (Washington, DC: GPO, Nov. 1968), p. 579.
32 Act of Feb. 1, 1905; 16 U.S.C. § 472.
the larger USDA Bureau of Forestry. The new entity was named the Forest Service,
with Pinchot as the first chief.
President Roosevelt more than doubled the forest reserve acreage in the two
years following the merger, to a total of 151 million acres by 1907. Congress
responded by limiting the President’s authority to proclaim additional forest reserves,
and renamed the reserves the national forests. In 1911, in the Weeks Law,33
Congress authorized additions to the National Forest System through the purchase
of private lands in need of rehabilitation. Under this authority and other specific acts,
the National Forest System has grown slowly to its current holdings of 193 million
acres in 44 states.34 These lands are concentrated in the West, but the 25 million
acres of national forests in the eastern half of the country account for more than half
of all federal lands in the East.
Forest Service Funding. As noted above, forestry funding began in the
Agriculture appropriations bill in 1876, and was a continuous account beginning in
1881. In 1955, House Appropriations Committee Chair Clarence Cannon decided
to consolidate public works funding under one subcommittee, initially known as the
Public Works Subcommittee and now called the Energy and Water Development
Subcommittee. House Interior Appropriation Subcommittee Chair Michael Kirwin
complained about the loss of his largest agency (the Bureau of Reclamation), and
argued for a substitute of comparable size. The FS was chosen.
The transfer of FS funding to Interior appropriations raised many concerns,
mostly related to the efforts by several administrations to transfer the FS to DOI. The
concerns were sufficient for House Speaker Sam Rayburn to take the floor to state
that the transfer was merely an administrative realignment for congressional purposes
and should not be seen as a precursor to transferring the agency.35 Senate Interior
Appropriations Subcommittee Chair Carl Hayden opened the 1955 hearings on the
FS budget by noting that the FS transfer from the Agriculture to the Interior
Subcommittee in the Senate was simply following the jurisdiction realignment in the
House, and was not intended to suggest an agency transfer.
National Forest Management. In 1897, in what has become known as the
Organic Administration Act,36 Congress stated the purposes for which forest reserves
(national forests) could be established:
... to improve and protect the forest within the reservation, or for the purpose of
securing favorable water flows, and to furnish a continuous supply of timber for
the use and necessities of the citizens of the United States.
33 Act of Mar. 1, 1911; 16 U.S.C. §§ 485, 515, et al.
34 USDA Forest Service, Land Areas Report (LAR) — as of Sept 30, 2007, available at
[ h t t p : / / www.f s .f ed.us/ l a nd/ st af f / l a r / 2007/ l a r 07i ndex.ht ml ] .
35 Congressional Record, v. 101, part 3 (March 24, 1955): pp. 3670-3671.
36 Section 1 of the Sundry Civil Expenses Appropriation Act for Fiscal Year 1898, Act of
June 4, 1897; 16 U.S.C. §§ 473-475, et al.
FS efforts to administer the national forests focused initially on fire control and
livestock grazing. The agency’s authority to regulate livestock grazing and charge
grazing fees was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1911.37 Although sheep and
goat grazing declined precipitously after the end of World War I, cattle grazing in the
national forests has been relatively stable since the 1930s. In contrast, and despite
FS efforts, timber sales remained relatively low until after World War II, then
climbed quickly during the 1950s; the sale program was relatively stable from 1960
through 1988, but has declined substantially since 1989, due to a host of factors,
including protection of water quality and of wildlife habitat for rare or endangered
species, such as the northern spotted owl. Recreation uses also rose after World War
II, and except for a brief decline in the mid-1980s, have continued to expand.38
Management goals for the national forests were identified in the 1897 act, and
were further articulated and expanded in the Multiple-Use Sustained-Yield Act of
It is the policy of the Congress that the national forests are established and
shall be administered for outdoor recreation, range, timber, watershed, and
wildlife and fish purposes.... The establishment and maintenance of areas as
wilderness are consistent with the purposes and provisions of this Act.
The Multiple-Use Sustained-Yield Act directs national forest management for the
combination of uses that “will best meet the needs of the American people.”
Resource management is to be coordinated for multiple use — considering the
relative values of the various resources, but not necessarily maximizing dollar
returns, nor requiring that areas be managed for all or even most uses. The act also
calls for sustained yield — a high level of resource outputs in perpetuity without
impairing the productivity of the land.
Management of the National Forest System is also guided by the Forest and
Rangelands Renewable Resources Planning Act of 1974 (RPA), as amended by the
National Forest Management Act of 1976 (NFMA).40 These laws encourage
foresight in using the nation’s renewable resources, and establish a long-range
strategic planning process for FS management. RPA focuses on national, long-range
direction for forest conservation by requiring an Assessment to inventory and
monitor the nation’s resource situation, a Program and Presidential Statement of
Policy to guide FS policies and budgets, and an Annual Report to evaluate Program
implementation and other FS activities. NFMA substantially expanded the guidance
for the FS to prepare comprehensive land and resource management plans for units
of the National Forest System that are integrated with the RPA planning process.
37 Samuel T. Dana and Sally K. Fairfax, Forest and Range Policy: Its Development in the
United States, 2d ed. (New York, NY: McGraw-Hill Book Co., 1980), p. 89.
38 For a discussion of historic use patterns, see U.S. Congress, Office of Technology
Assessment, Forest Service Planning: Accommodating Uses, Producing Outputs, and
Sustaining Ecosystems, OTA-F-505 (Washington, DC: GPO, Feb. 1992), pp. 35-39.
39 P.L. 86-517; 16 U.S.C. §§ 528-531.
40 Respectively: P.L. 93-378 and P.L. 94-588; 16 U.S.C. §§ 1600-1614.
Other FS Programs. FS responsibilities are not limited to managing the
national forests. Another principal FS program is a continuation of the original role
of the Bureau of Forestry: to provide forestry assistance to states and nonindustrial
private forest owners. Congress enacted the Clarke-McNary Act to consolidate these41
forestry assistance programs. Forestry research is the third principal FS program.
Congress first authorized forest studies in the 1870s, but was silent on forestry
research until 1928, when it enacted the McSweeny-McNary Act “to insure adequate
supplies of timber and other forest products.”42 The authorities for these two43
programs were revised and updated in separate acts in 1978. The FS also provides
forestry assistance under its International Forestry program.44
The FS also manages some lands in the National Forest System that are not
national forests — notably the 20 national grasslands and 69 land utilization projects
and purchase units. These 89 units were established under the Bankhead-Jones Farm45
Tenant Act to:
... correct maladjustments in land use, and thus assist in controlling soil erosion,
reforestation, preserving natural resources, protecting fish and wildlife,
developing and protecting recreational facilities, mitigating floods, preventing
impairment of dams and reservoirs, developing energy resources, conserving
surface and subsurface moisture, protecting the watersheds of navigable streams,
and protecting the public lands, health, safety, and welfare, but not to build
industrial parks or establish private industrial or commercial enterprises.
While many of the lands acquired under the Bankhead-Jones Farm Tenant Act are
administered by the FS, others (including some lands transferred from USDA) are
administered by the BLM.
Bureau of Land Management
The BLM was formed in 1946 by a merger of two DOI agencies: the General
Land Office and the U.S. Grazing Service. The General Land Office had been
established in the Department of Treasury in 1812 (and transferred to DOI in 1849)
to oversee the conveyance of public domain lands out of federal ownership. The
public domain are the lands acquired by the federal government from the original
colonies or by treaty or purchase from a foreign government.46 The emphasis for
41 Act of June 7, 1924; 16 U.S.C. §§ 564-570.
42 Act of May 22, 1928; 16 U.S.C. §581.
43 Respectively: the Cooperative Forestry Assistance Act of 1978, P.L. 95-313; 16 U.S.C.
§§ 2101-2111; and the Forest and Rangeland Renewable Resources Research Act of 1978,
P.L. 95-307; 16 U.S.C. §§ 1641-1647.
44 Authorized in §2405(d) of the Global Climate Change Prevention Act of 1990, Title
XXIV of the Food, Agriculture, Conservation, and Trade Act of 1990 (the 1990 farm bill,
P.L. 101-624), and reauthorized in subsequent farm bills; 7 U.S.C. § 6704(d).
45 Act of July 22, 1937; 7 U.S.C. §§ 1010-1012.
46 For background, see CRS Report RL34267, Federal Land Ownership: Constitutional
many years was on conveying (disposing of) the public domain lands, not on
managing them. Conveyances included grants to states (for education) and to
railroads (for developing transcontinental transportation routes). In addition, millions
of acres were sold or transferred to private individuals, in payment for service in the
Revolutionary War and under the Homestead Act and numerous other laws. As
noted above, the General Land Office’s Division of Forestry was responsible for
administering the forest reserves from 1891 until the lands and the Division were
transferred to USDA in 1905.
Taylor Grazing Act and the U.S. Grazing Service. The Taylor Grazing47
Act was enacted to remedy the deteriorating range condition of the public lands, due
to overuse and the drought and depression of the late 1920s and 1930s. It was the48
first legislation directing federal management of the remaining public domain lands.
The act included a provision — “pending their final disposal” — that implied
eventual transfer of the remaining public domain lands out of federal ownership, but
management to improve conditions also suggested a continuing federal presence.
The administration of the public rangelands was subject to substantial debate.
Some felt that the FS should oversee the lands, as it had a relatively extensive staff
and had shown a capacity for administering rangelands. Others argued that the lands
should remain in DOI, because the FS had alienated the ranching industry by trying
to raise grazing fees in the 1920s. In the end, because of the political jurisdictions
and because of efforts by DOI Secretary Harold Ickes to retain the lands in DOI, the
rangelands subject to the Taylor Grazing Act were administered by a new Grazing
Division within the General Land Office; the division became the U.S. Grazing
Service, separate from the Land Office, in 1939.49
The U.S. Grazing Service was terminated in 1946. Some attributed its demise
to the political strength of the ranching industry and lack of support for the Service’s
conservation efforts.50 Others maintained that agency efforts to allocate grazing
permits and raise grazing fees led to congressional dissatisfaction that led to a major
cut in appropriations for 1946, forcing the Grazing Service to dismiss about two-51
thirds of its staff. In an effort to retain a modicum of control, President Harry
Truman proposed Executive Reorganization No. 3 (May 1946) to merge the Grazing
Service with the General Land Office into a new Bureau of Land Management
Authority and the History of Acquisition, Disposal, and Retention, by Kristina Alexander
and Ross W. Gorte.
47 Act of June 28, 1934; 43 U.S.C. § 315.
48 Gates, History of Public Land Law Development, pp. 610-612.
49 Dana and Fairfax, Forest and Range Policy, pp. 160-161.
50 Dana and Fairfax, Forest and Range Policy, pp. 162-164.
51 Gates, History of Public Land Law Development, pp. 617-622.
(BLM).52 When Congress did not disapprove the plan, it became effective in July
The O&C Lands.53 In 1866, Congress granted lands for building a railroad
from Portland, OR, to the California state line. The grant included every other
square-mile section (like a checkerboard) for 20 miles on each side of the right-of-
way. Because of a dispute over competing claims to build the railroad, and financial
difficulties for the two principal claimants, Congress amended the original grant to
require that the lands be disposed to “actual settlers” for agricultural uses at fixed
prices. A new company — the Oregon and California (O&C) Railroad — merged
the initial companies proclaiming their right to build the railroad and acquire the
lands using the grant lands to capitalize the new company.
The company built the rail line and sold some of the lands, but in 1903, because
of rising timber prices, Southern Pacific (which had acquired the O&C Railroad)
decided to sell no more land.54 Also in 1903, President Roosevelt had investigators
examine fraudulent O&C land grant transactions. In 1908, in response to a petition
from the Oregon legislature, Congress passed a resolution requesting the U.S.
Attorney General to enforce compliance with the disposal requirement. In 1913, a
decision in the federal district court in Oregon held that the government could not
force disposal of the land, but the unsold land could be forfeited. In 1915, the U.S.
Supreme Court held that Congress could dispose of the grant lands as it deemed
fitting and equitable.
In 1916, Congress enacted the Chamberlain-Ferris Act55 to revest (return to
federal ownership) the remaining lands that had been granted to the O&C Railroad56
Company, and directed administration of these lands by DOI. It also directed the
sale of timber to settle claims and to pay the counties an amount equivalent to tax
payments that the railroad would have made for 1913-1915. This tax equivalency
payment was extended through 1926 in the Stanfield Act.57
52 Univ. of Oregon, Bureau of Governmental Research and Service, The O&C Lands (Salem,
OR: 1981), p. 21.
53 This history is largely taken from two sources: Elmo Richardson, BLM’s Billion-Dollar
Checkerboard: Managing the O&C Lands (Santa Cruz, CA: Forest History Society, 1980),
200 pp; and Univ. of Oregon, Bureau of Governmental Research and Service, The O&C
Lands (Salem, OR: 1981), 178 pp.
54 Gates, History of Public Land Law Development, p. 602.
55 Act of June 9, 1916.
56 The O&C lands commonly include Coos Bay Wagon Road (CBWR) lands. The 1869
grant to the Southern Oregon Company to build a military road from Roseburg, OR, to Coos
Bay, OR, included alternating sections within 3 miles on each side of the right-of-way, and
included a similar disposal-to-settlers provision. The lands were reconveyed (returned to
federal ownership) for similar grant violations in the Act of Feb. 26, 1919. It is unclear why
the 1919 CBWR law used reconveyed while the 1916 O&C law used revested.
57 Act of July 13, 1926.
The Great Depression and concerns about industrial overproduction led to
debates over O&C land management in the 1930s. The appropriate federal agency
to administer the O&C lands was vigorously debated:58
Predictably, the Forest Service believed that establishing a forest management
agency in the Department of the Interior was unwise and inefficient. Similarly,
[DOI Secretary] Ickes was determined to hold onto the O&C timberlands. He
saw the revested lands as a toehold in the forestry area which would strengthen
his case for reuniting Interior and the Forest Service.
In 1937, Congress enacted the O&C Act to provide for sustained yield of timber
managed by DOI.59 The act also directed payments to the counties of 50% of timber
revenues (instead of tax equivalency), with up to 25% for delinquent (1934-1937) tax
equivalency payments and deficient Stanfield Act payments.
The Public Land Law Review Commission and the Federal Land
Policy and Management Act of 1976. The numerous federal laws governing
the public lands and resources led to increasingly scattered management authorities.
In 1964, Congress directed a review of the public lands and management authorities
by the Public Land Law Review Commission. The commission’s 1970 report
recommended that the remaining public lands be retained in federal ownership and
managed for multiple use and sustained yield.60
In 1976, after six years of deliberations, Congress enacted a comprehensive61
public land law: the Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976 (FLPMA).
FLPMA formally established the federal policy of retaining the remaining public
lands in federal ownership; § 102(a) states that:
(1) the public lands be retained in Federal ownership, unless as a result of the
land use planning procedures provided for in this Act, it is determined that
disposal of a particular parcel will serve the national interest ...
Many BLM lands in Alaska have been transferred to other federal agencies or
out of federal ownership after FLPMA was enacted. The 1958 Alaska Statehood Act
and the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act of 1971,62 though pre-dating FLPMA,
authorized substantial transfers out of federal ownership; the Alaska National Interest
Lands Conservation Act63 transferred significant acreages to the National Park
Service and Fish and Wildlife Service. Nonetheless, the BLM still manages more
land than any other federal agency — 258.2 million acres, of which 83.5 million
58 Dana and Fairfax, Forest and Range Policy, p. 166.
59 Act of Aug. 28, 1937; 43 U.S.C. §§ 1181a-1181f.
60 One Third of the Nation’s Land: A Report to the President and to the Congress by the
Public Land Law Review Commission (Washington, DC: GPO, June 1970), 342 pp.
61 P.L. 94-579; 43 U.S.C. §§ 1701-1781.
62 Respectively: P.L. 85-508, and P.L. 92-203; 43 U.S.C. §§ 1601-1629k.
63 P.L. 96-487; 16 U.S.C. §§ 3101-3233.
(33%) are in Alaska, 174.7 million acres are in the 11 coterminous western states,
and only 1.6 million acres are in the other 38 states.64
BLM Land Management. Like the FS, the BLM is directed to manage its
lands for multiple use and sustained yield. The BLM was given its initial multiple-
use direction in the Multiple Use, Sustained Yield Classification Act of 1964.65 This
direction duplicated the definitions of the Multiple-Use Sustained-Yield Act, but was
made temporary, “pending the implementation of recommendations to be made by
the Public Land Law Review Commission.” Multiple use and sustained yield were
made permanent management goals for the public lands, “unless otherwise specified
by law,” in §102(a)(7) of FLPMA. The definitions of multiple use and sustained
yield in FLPMA are virtually identical to those in Multiple-Use Sustained-Yield Act,
although FLPMA gives voice to future needs and values not explicitly identified in
the earlier act. FLPMA also established, in §102(a)(9), a general policy of obtaining
the fair market value for public lands and resources, “unless otherwise provided for
FLPMA is also called the BLM Organic Act because Title III consolidated and
articulated many of the management responsibilities of the BLM. FLPMA also
amended, repealed, and/or replaced many of the previous public land laws, including
authorities for federal land acquisitions, disposals, exchanges, and rights-of-way; for
range management; and for special area protection (including withdrawals) and
advisory groups in decision-making. FLPMA requires resource management
planning for the public lands, but the planning guidance for the public lands in
FLPMA is substantially less detailed than is the planning guidance for national
forests in the NFMA.
64 U.S. Dept. of the Interior, Bureau of Land Management, Public Land Statistics, 2005, at
[ h t t p : / / www/ bl m. go v/ nat acq/ p l s 05/ pl s1-4_05.pdf ] .
65 P.L. 88-607.
History of Transfer and Merger Proposals66
Federal forestry began in the Department of Agriculture almost by accident —
money for a forestry study was added to the Agriculture appropriations bill in August
1876, after a bill directing a forestry study by the Department of the Interior had
stalled in the House Committee on Public Lands. The forest reserves were
established in the Interior Department, because the General Land Office was already
responsible for those lands.
Discussions about bringing USDA’s foresters and Interior’s forests together
began early in the 20th century. In December 1901, three months after becoming
President, Theodore Roosevelt sent a message to Congress stating that the forest
reserves belonged in the Department of Agriculture, and the Secretary of the Interior
supported transferring the reserves to Agriculture. Although there was substantial
congressional opposition to the transfer, at least partly because of concerns over the
anticipated control by Gifford Pinchot (Chief of the USDA Bureau of Forestry), the
transfer was enacted in 1905.
Taft and Wilson Administrations. Proposals to transfer the FS to DOI, to
combine it with a DOI agency, or to establish a new land and resources conservation
department, began soon thereafter. The first effort to transfer the national forests
back to Interior was begun in 1911 by DOI Secretary Walter Fisher in the Taft
Administration, and bills to effect the transfer were introduced in the 64th, 65th, and
66th Congresses (1916-1920), during the Wilson Administration.67 At about the
same time, the FS disputed the need for a DOI agency to administer the national
parks and national monuments (many of which were established within the national
forests), claiming that the FS could administer these recreation lands; nonetheless,
Congress established the National Park Service in 1916.
Harding Administration. The second attempt was in the Harding
Administration in 1921 by DOI Secretary Albert Fall. The President delayed action,
and Fall turned to Congress, asking that the national forests in Alaska be transferred
to Interior. The dispute simmered until Harding visited Alaska in the summer of
1923, and then publicly questioned such a transfer.68 It is unclear whether this
resulted from firsthand observations or from revelations of the impending Teapot
Dome scandal (wherein Secretary Fall was convicted of accepting bribes for
fraudulent oil leases on federal lands in Wyoming), but Harding’s death a week later
effectively ended the effort.
66 Most of this history, at least through the end of World War II, is drawn from Harold K.
Steen, The U.S. Forest Service: A History (Seattle, WA: Univ. of Washington Press, 1976),
67 Henry Clepper, Professional Forestry in the United States (Baltimore, MD: The Johns
Hopkins Press, 1971), pp. 59-60.
68 President Harding’s Seattle speech on the subject was prepared without consulting the
Secretaries of Agriculture and the Interior, nor with Secretary of Commerce Herbert Hoover,
who would become involved in later efforts to alter the organizational arrangement.
Hoover Administration. President Hoover appeared interested in federal
reorganization, but problems associated with the Great Depression overwhelmed his
Administration. President Hoover did issue an Executive Order on December 9,
1932, transferring the General Land Office to the Department of Agriculture. This
proposal was only offered after an attempt to transfer the public domain land to the
states was widely rejected and President Hoover had been defeated in his reelection
bid. However, this attempt to reorganize federal land management (and other
reorganization recommendations) was disapproved by H.Res. 350 on January 19,
Roosevelt Administration. Transfer of the FS to DOI was debated for
several years under President Franklin Roosevelt. DOI Secretary Harold Ickes was
at the center of the controversy that began in 1933 with the transfer of 16 national
monuments from the FS to the National Park Service; FS concerns were exacerbated
in 1934, when the Natural Resources Board (chaired by Ickes) recommended creating
additional National Park System units from existing national forest lands.69 In 1936,
the Brownlow Committee on Executive Reorganization recommended transferring
the FS to Interior. However, the open dispute between Ickes and the FS delayed
action, and events leading to World War II distracted the President from internal
affairs. In addition, bills to establish a Department of Conservation and Works, using
DOI and the FS as a foundation, were introduced in the Senate in 1935 and in the
House in 1936. The Senate passed its bill on May 13, 1936, but not until it had been
amended to only change the name of the Interior Department to the Department of
Conservation. The House bill was reported by the Public Lands Committee on
March 9, 1936, but objections were raised and it did not come to a floor vote.
Truman Administration. In 1947, during the Truman Administration,
Congress established the Commission on Organization of the Executive Branch of
Government, chaired by ex-President Herbert Hoover. In 1949, this first Hoover
Commission (a second Hoover Commission to examine federal government
organization was created in 1953) recommended that federal land management be
concentrated in the Department of Agriculture, with all forest and range management
in one agency; this view was presented by the Task Force on Agriculture in Appendix70
M of the report. Separately, the Task Force on Natural Resources, in Appendix L
of the report, proposed a Department of Natural Resources, including a Forest and71
Range Service created by combining the FS and BLM. These reports were
presented to Congress and to President Truman, but no direct actions were taken on
69 Dana and Fairfax, Forest and Range Policy, pp. 151-153.
70 U.S. Congress, House, Department of Agriculture: Letter from the Chairman, Commission
on Organization of the Executive Branch of the Government, Transmitting Its Report onstst
“Reorganization the Department of Agriculture,” H.Doc. 80, 81 Cong., 1 sess.
(Washington, DC: GPO, 1949), 37 pp.
71 U.S. Congress, House, Department of the Interior: Letter from the Chairman, Commission
on Organization of the Executive Branch of the Government, Transmitting Its Report on the
Department of the Interior and, Separately, as Appendixes L, M, and Q, the Related Taskst
Force Reports on Natural Resources, Agriculture, and Public Works, H.Doc. 122, 81st
Cong., 1 sess. (Washington, DC: GPO, 1949), 94 pp., plus appendixes.
Eisenhower Administration. President Eisenhower’s Advisory Committee
on Government Organization concurred with the Hoover Commission
recommendation for combining forest and range management in the Department of
Agriculture.72 The committee asserted that this transfer could be done without
separate legislation under then-existing reorganization authority, but that the proposal
would be highly controversial. The Senate Committee on Interior and Insular Affairs
and House Committee on Government Operations held joint hearings in November
all federal forestry functions within the FS. Following responses to the committee
recommendations on federal timber sale policies, the Senate Interior Committee
issued a report in 1958 reconfirming its recommendation for consolidating federal
forestry within the FS:74
We recommend the consolidation in the Forest Service of the forestry functions
and the surface resource management responsibilities for commercial forest land
under the jurisdiction of the Bureau of Land Management and the Bureau of
DOI and the Bureau of the Budget (predecessor to the Office of Management
and Budget) opposed the recommendation in a letter to the committee chairman.75
Despite this opposition, President Eisenhower proposed Reorganization Plan No. 1
of 1959 to transfer certain DOI functions (specifically, “responsibilities with respect
to certain land or timber exchanges and land sales .... [and] the use and disposal of
mineral materials ...”) to the Secretary of Agriculture. Upon further study, however,
the President decided not to transmit the reorganization plan to Congress because of
differing Agriculture and Interior timber sale practices, and the possibility for
disrupting the timber sales programs. Senate Interior Committee Chairman James
Murray concurred with the President’s decision, but suggested that the problem was
from not following the committee’s recommendations:76
Mr. President, the Administration has just discovered what the Congress told
them 3 years ago. The Federal timber selling agencies are not coordinated in
their activities and to launch on a consolidation without first harmonizing
statutes, regulations, and procedures would create chaos for the dependent timber
72 President’s Advisory Committee on Government Organization, Memorandum for
President Eisenhower — Subject: Department of Agriculture, Memorandum No. 7
(Washington, DC: Feb. 14, 1953), 5 p.
73 U.S. Congress, Senate Committee on Interior and Insular Affairs, Federal Timber Sales
Policies, committee print, 84th Cong., 2nd sess. (Washington, DC: GPO, 1956).
74 U.S. Congress, Senate Committee on Interior and Insular Affairs, Responses By Federal
Agencies to the Report on Federal Timber Sales Policies, committee print, 85th Cong., 2nd
sess. (Washington, DC: GPO, 1958), p. 7.
75 James E. Murray, “Remarks in the Senate: Consolidation of Federal Forestry Activities,”
Congressional Record, v. 105 (Aug. 27, 1959), pp. 15706-15707.
76 Murray, “Consolidation of Federal Forestry Activities.”
Kennedy Administration. The Kennedy Administration gave little attention
to resource management issues. However, to further this “era of good feeling,” the
Agriculture and Interior Secretaries sent a letter to the President, known as the
“Treaty of the Potomac,” proposing greater cooperation and an end to proposals to77
transfer lands among agencies. Nonetheless, in 1964, Congress established the
Public Land Law Review Commission to review management of the remaining
public domain lands administered by the BLM. The commission submitted its report
to President Nixon and to Congress in June 1970.78 One recommendation was to
transfer the FS to DOI, to be renamed the Department of Natural Resources. The
similar land uses and management objectives for the BLM and FS were cited as
supporting rationale, but a merger of these two agencies was not explicitly proposed.
No legislative proposals were presented to effect this recommendation.
Nixon Administration. While the Public Land Law Review Commission
was completing its report, President Nixon’s Advisory Council on Executive
Organization, under Roy Ash, considered two options: establishing a Department of
Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) or a Department of Natural Resources
(DNR).79 These would have created a Cabinet-level department combining the FS,
the Soil Conservation Service, and certain other USDA functions; all DOI agencies;
certain functions of the Army Corps of Engineers; the National Oceanic and
Atmospheric Administration of the Department of Commerce; and other agencies.
(The proposed DENR would also have included the 44 federal agencies involved in
monitoring, research, standard-setting, and enforcement of pollution abatement
programs; the DNR proposal, with a separate Environmental Protection Agency for
the pollution functions, was considered a fallback position from the full DENR
proposal.80) President Nixon issued Reorganization Plan #3 in 1970, which
established the Environmental Protection Agency, and in March 1971 presented his
DNR proposal to Congress and the public.81
Several bills were introduced in the 92nd Congress to establish a Department of
Natural Resources or Natural Resources and Environment. The House Committee
on Government Operations and Senate Committee on Government Affairs held
hearings on the proposals. Problems of disrupting agency operations, and pros and
cons of disrupting current interest group-agency relationships, were discussed by the
witnesses. It was variously argued that a DNR could facilitate the implementation
of national policies, but might stifle national discussions of policies by keeping the
debates within one department. Finally, the DNR proposal was seen as likely to
77 Dana and Fairfax, Forest and Range Policy, p. 209.
78 One-Third of the Nation’s Land.
79 President’s Advisory Council on Executive Organization, Memorandum for the President;
Subject: The Establishment of a Department of Natural Resources (Washington, DC: May
80 Dana and Fairfax, Forest and Range Policy, p. 242-243.
81 Executive Office of the President, Office of Management and Budget, Papers Relating
to the President’s Departmental Reorganization Program: A Reference Compilation
(Washington, DC: GPO, March 1971), pp. 153-223.
fragment congressional oversight of resource activities because more committees
would have jurisdiction over portions of the department’s functions.
Despite the interest in reorganizing federal land and resource responsibilities,
no bills were reported by committee during the 92nd Congress. In June 1973, during
the 93rd Congress, President Nixon presented a revised reorganization proposal, with
a Department of Energy and Natural Resources; however, the natural resources
portion of the revised proposal was substantially the same as the previous proposal.
Legislation was introduced, but no bills that would establish a new department with
a natural resource focus were reported by committee in the 93rd Congress.
In 1976, Congress moved away from merging the BLM and FS by enacting
FLPMA and NFMA — separate major management laws for the two agencies —
signed into law on consecutive days. Congress explicitly retained and amended the
separate management functions of the BLM in FLPMA. While much of the guidance
for multiple-use, sustained-yield management in FLPMA was based on FS
experience with the laws governing the national forests, substantial differences were
enacted for BLM management of the public lands.
Carter Administration. President Carter established a comprehensive
government reorganization project soon after he came to office, and one study
centered on restructuring federal management of natural resources. On March 1,
1979, President Carter announced a reorganization plan to create a Department of
Natural Resources from the existing DOI plus the USDA FS and the National
Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration from the Department of Commerce. The
FS, BLM, and the Conservation Division of the U.S. Geological Survey were to be
combined into a National Forest and Land Administration.
This reorganization was proposed under the authority of the Reorganization Act
of 1946 (which delegated certain restructuring authority to the President), and was
thus deemed not to require legislation. However, Members of Congress objected,
arguing that the proposal exceeded presidential authority. The substance of the
reorganization also raised congressional concerns. Both the House and the Senate
Agriculture Committees held hearings on President Carter’s reorganization plan.
Many points, supporting and opposing the reorganization, were raised, but a recurrent
theme was the potential dilution and/or degradation of FS expertise and
professionalism if the agency were to be merged with the BLM, whose smaller staff
managed more acreage. The substantial congressional opposition and other
legislative priorities led Carter to withdraw the DNR proposal before any substantive
congressional action had occurred.82
Reagan Administration. On January 30, 1985, the Reagan Administration
announced a proposal to exchange certain federal lands between the FS and BLM.
This proposal did not involve a merger of the two agencies, as did the previous
reorganizations. Instead, it was considered a land consolidation, with more than 25
82 Executive Office of the President, Office of Management and Budget, President’s
Reorganization Project: Report on Reorganization Study of Natural Resource Functions
(Washington, DC: June 1979), 2 parts, plus appendixes.
million acres of land transferred to management by the other agency (10 million to
the BLM and 15 million to the Forest Service).83 This proposed “interchange” would
have required legislation to change the land jurisdictions, but sharing of personnel
was to proceed administratively. Joint BLM/FS public hearings were held in the
summer of 1985 in the areas affected by the interchange on the state-by-state
implementation plans. The Administration proposed legislation to adjust the land
jurisdictions in 1986 and completed a legislative environmental impact statement to
support the proposal,84 but could not get the proposal introduced.
Bush I Administration. In a widely-publicized proposal in 1991, House
Budget Committee Chair Leon Panetta proposed eliminating eight Cabinet
departments by consolidating existing agencies and departments, including
combining DOI, USDA, and the Department of Energy into a Department of Natural
Resources.85 He introduced a bill in 1992 (102nd Congress) to establish a
Commission on Executive Organization to consider such a consolidation, but no
hearings were held on the bill.
Clinton Administration. On March 3, 1993, President Clinton established
the National Performance Review (NPR), headed by Vice President Al Gore. In
September 1993, NPR released its report From Red Tape to Results: Creating a
Government that Works Better and Costs Less. The DOI supporting report contained
14 recommendations, including DOI06: Rationalize Federal Land Ownership.86 This
report recommended “trial pilot coordinated management areas, preferably watershed
based.” These tests were to address various concepts, including FS and BLM
“cooperative ecosystem-based management, ... shared public service, administrative,
and program activities ... [and] to reengineer ... public service activities to develop
single processes used by both agencies.”87 The report also recommended an
evaluation after 18-24 months to assess if broader application was warranted and if
legislation was needed to expand the applications.
83 It appears that such a land consolidation/reorganization had not been suggested before the
Reagan Administration proposal. See out-of-print CRS Report IB85101, Federal Land
Management Transfers Proposed Between Bureau of Land Management and Forest Service
(With Appendix), by Ross W. Gorte and Adela Backiel (available from the author).
84 U.S. Dept. of Interior, Bureau of Land Management, and U.S. Dept. of Agriculture, Forest
Service, Legislative Environmental Impact Statement: Bureau of Land Management/Forest
Service Interchange (Land Exchange Boundary) (Washington, DC: Feb. 1986), 250 pp.
85 Eric Pianin, “Panetta’s Deficit Solution: Cut Military by 40%, Pare 8 Cabinet Depts.”
Washington Post (Oct. 8, 1991): p. A17; and “Opposition Swamps Panetta’s Plan to
Consolidate Cabinet,” Washington Post (Nov. 5, 1991): p. A19.
86 National Partnership for Reinventing Government, Department of Interior: Accompanying
Report of the National Performance Review (Washington, DC: Sept. 1993), at
87 National Partnership for Reinventing Government, Department of Interior:
Recommendations and Actions — DOI06: Rationalize Federal Land Ownership, at
In 1997, the FS and the BLM began a cooperative program, known as Service
First, that allows pilot tests of joint permitting and leasing programs, reciprocally
delegating duties and responsibilities (e.g., allowing a BLM employee to conduct a
cultural resource assessment for an FS timber sale), and co-locating facilities. The
program was authorized for FY1998 — FY2002 in the FY1998 Interior
appropriations act (P.L. 105-83). Specifically, § 331 states that:
... the Secretaries of the Interior and Agriculture may make reciprocal delegations
of their respective authorities, duties and responsibilities in support of joint pilot
programs to promote customer service and efficiency in the management of
public lands and national forests: Provided, That nothing herein shall alter,
expand or limit the existing applicability of any public law or regulation to lands
administered by the Bureau of Land Management or the Forest Service.
The authority was extended and expanded in § 330 of the Interior appropriations act
for FY2001 (P.L. 106-291) and amended to further extend and expand the program
in § 428 of the Interior appropriations act for FY2006 (P.L. 109-54); it is currently
due to expire at the end of FY2008. The agency budget justifications and websites
provide no data on the nature and extent of Service First projects.