Friday, November 1, 2013

An administrative history of the US Bureau of Land Management

The latest Environmental History has a review by James C. Lewis of James R. Skillen's "The Nation's Largest Landlord: The Bureau of Land Management in the American West" (University Press of Kansas, 2009). Lewis writes:
The BLM has always operated in the shadow of the Forest Service. To most easterners—and probably many westerners—the agency... still remains largely unfamiliar, its purpose unclear and amorphous. It has been that way since it formed in 1946 when Congress merged the Grazing Service and the General Land Office. For its first thirty years the BLM did not even have an organic act that laid out its mandate. Originally nicknamed “the Bureau of Livestock and Mines” because of the resource uses the agency emphasized, which also included logging, during those thirty years western congressmen deliberately limited its political power and worked to keep it a decentralized agency responsive to the needs of local users.
Passage of federal environmental legislation in the 1970s and an organic act in 1976 forced the agency to change how and why it managed its nameless lands (they finally received a name in 2008—the “National System of Public Lands”). In the 1990s, after ordered by the Clinton administration to manage ecosystem preservation, the BLM was dubbed the “Bureau of Landscapes and Monuments” because it became an agency more focused on preserving landscapes and welcoming of recreationists than it had been historically. The election of George W. Bush in 2000 saw the pendulum swing back toward an emphasis on resource development, leaving BLM employees and the general public confused again as to the bureau's mission and purpose. 

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