Summary of Environmental Law in the United States

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16 Environmental Management of Public Lands


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See also Section 20: Forests and Forest Management; Section 17: Conservation of Biological Diversity and Wildlife; and Section 23: Military or Federal Facilities

The federal government is the largest landowner in the United States. Federal lands fall in several categories, each with a different primary purpose and each governed by a different institution. Major categories of public land include: national parks and monuments, governed by the National Park Service (NPS); natural resource or rangelands, governed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM); national forests, administered by the U.S. Forest Service (USFS), See Section 20; national wildlife refuges, administered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), See Section 17.4; wild and scenic rivers, administered by each of the agencies, See Section 9.7; wilderness areas designated within other public lands; and, military lands, administered by the Department of Defense (DOD), See Section 23.

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16.1 Institutions for Public Land Management


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The Department of Interior (DOI) manages most public lands, with the exception of forest lands managed by the Department of Agriculture's USFS, see Section 20: Forests and Forest Management, and military lands operated by the DOD, see Section 23: Military or Federal Facilities Within the DOI, the major land management agencies include the BLM, the NPS, and the USFWS.

Bureau of Land Management

BLM administers about 272 million acres of public rangelands located primarily in the western states.

National Park Service

The NPS manages all national parks and national monuments according to the goals and standards set forth in the legislation creating the specific park or the regulation creating the specific monument.

United States Fish and Wildlife Service

The USFWS of the DOI is the lead federal agency for managing and conserving the nation's migratory birds, threatened and endangered species, non-marine mammals, and sport fishes. Among other duties, the USFWS: manages national wildlife refuges, operates federal fish hatcheries, regulates hunting of migratory game birds, provides financial and technical assistance to state wildlife agencies, and implements most international wildlife conventions.

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16.2 Other Publicly Owned Lands


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Under the Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976 (FLPMA), 43 U.S.C. secs. 1701-1784, BLM must manage its lands under principles of multiple use and sustained yield in accordance with land use plans developed by the agency. 43 U.S.C. secs. 1701(a)(7), 1732(a). BLM is required to inventory all of its lands and develop land use plans, that among other things: reflect the principles of multiple use and sustained yield; take a multidisciplinary approach involving physical, biological, economical, and other sciences; consider present and future uses; comply with federal and state pollution laws; and, generally conform with state, local, and tribal land use policies. 43 U.S.C. sec. 1712(c). The FLPMA also sets out the procedures for: acquiring, exchanging, conveying, or selling BLM lands; gaining easements on BLM lands; withdrawing BLM lands from certain uses; and, providing grazing permits and leases on rangelands.

"Multiple use" means management to balance the many different types of surface resources, including outdoor recreation, grazing, mining, timber, watershed protection, and wildlife and fish conservation. Consideration must be given to the relative value of the resources. However, priority should not necessarily be given to "the combination of uses that will give the greatest dollar return or the greatest unit output." FLPMA, 43 U.S.C. sec. 1702(c); Multiple Use, Sustained Yield Act (MUSYA). 16 U.S.C. sec. 531.

"Sustained yield" means the achievement and maintenance in perpetuity of a high-level annual or regular periodic output of the various renewable resources of the public lands consistent with multiple use. FLPMA, 43 U.S.C. sec. 1702; MUSYA, 16 U.S.C. sec. 531.

Grazing leases and permits

The Taylor Grazing Act of 1934, 43 U.S.C. sec. 315, replaced the concept of an open range with a grazing fee and permit system. Continued degradation from overgrazing led Congress to authorize both the BLM and the USFS to develop grazing allotment management plans tailored to specific grazing conditions and prepared in consultation with the lessees and permittees. 43 U.S.C. sec. 1752. Holders of existing grazing permits or leases receive first priority for renewal, and the government must pay compensation for revoking any unexpired permit. The permits or leases are generally valid for a period of ten years. A permittee may graze a fixed number of cattle or sheep on the land. The Public Rangelands Improvement Act of 1978 (PRIA), 43 U.S.C. secs. 1901-1908, defines a formula for setting grazing fees. The formula reflects changes in private grazing land lease rates, the price of beef cattle and costs of livestock production. Since passage of the PRIA, improvement through livestock reduction is to be a management priority. 43 U.S.C. sec. 1903(b).

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16.3 Protected Areas and Park


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National Parks

Congress creates every national park separately by individual legislation. The NPS administers national parks according to the goals and standards set forth in the individual park's legislation. Economic development of most natural resources, such as timber or minerals, is prohibited, except for mining claims established before 1976. Mining in Parks Act of 1976, 16 U.S.C. secs. 1901-1912. Firearms and hunting are also prohibited in most parks.. See National Park and Recreation Act of 1978, Pub. L. No. 95-625; 92 Stat. 3467 (codified in scattered sections of 16 U.S.C.); Park Service Organic Act of 1916, 16 U.S.C. sec. 3. Most major threats to national parks come from .activities just outside their boundaries, which are regulated, if at all, only by general land use planning restrictions.

Wilderness Areas

Wilderness areas are vast roadless areas designated to be preserved in their natural condition, unaffected by human activities. Congress designated some federal wilderness areas in the Wilderness Act of 1964, 16 U.S.C. secs. 1131-1136, the Eastern Wilderness Act of 1975, Pub. L. No. 93-622, and the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act of 1980, 16 U.S.C. secs. 3101-3133. The Wilderness Act also established a process by which the federal land management agencies, including the USFS, BLM, and NPS, study and recommend roadless areas under their jurisdiction for protection as wilderness. Such wilderness areas are still administered by the designating agency. Wilderness areas are to be preserved in their natural state; only non-motorized recreational uses are allowed. The major exceptions to this rule include pre-1984 mining claims, pre-1964 grazing rights, logging (if specifically allowed in an area), and the federal development of hydropower or water resources.

The Clinton Administration issued on January 12, 2001 the Roadless Areas Initiative, record of decision (ROD) and a final rule that prohibits most road construction and reconstruction in 58.5 million acres of inventoried roadless areas in national forests in order to minimize adverse environmental impacts to wilderness areas. The initiative would prohibit (with some exceptions) new roads and most timber harvests in the roadless areas, but allow cutting under specified circumstances. Unneeded roads would be decommissioned and the roadbeds restored. Until the new road inventories and analyses are completed, interim requirements would pertain and a compelling need for new roads would have to be demonstrated.

National Recreation Areas

National recreation areas are typically created to encompass the lands surrounding reservoirs behind federally-authorized dams. National recreation areas permit broader economic development of resources. 16 U.S.C. sec. 1724.

Wild and Scenic Rivers

See Section 9.7: Protection of Fresh Water Ecosystems.

State Parks and Conservation Areas

Every state has a system of protected areas, which can provide a wide range of conservation benefits and recreational opportunities. In addition, local and county parks and playgrounds often protect small natural areas or open spaces.

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16.4 Protection of Cultural or National Heritage


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The federal government can protect cultural or historical sites as national monuments or historic landmarks. It can also withdraw or reserve archaeological sites, or otherwise regulate archaeological activities on public lands.

National Monuments

Congress has authorized the President to designate national monuments, consistent with the terms of the Antiquities Act of 1906, 16 U.S.C. sec. 431, and the Historic Sites, Buildings and Antiquities Act of 1935, 16 U.S.C. secs. 461-467. National monuments may be designated for their scenic or natural significance as well as for historical, cultural, or scientific reasons. The NPS administers national monuments.

National Historic Landmarks

The National Historic Preservation Act of 1966 (NHPA), as amended, 16 U.S.C. sec. 470, established a National Register of Historic Places. Sites are eligible for listing if they have significant cultural or historical value. Private owners of listed landmarks may be eligible for income tax credits. Federal agencies must conduct a "historic impact review" before taking any action that could negatively impact a listed site. The Advisory Council on Historic Preservation oversees the program and must be given an opportunity to comment on federal actions potentially affecting listed landmarks.

Protection of Archaeological Resources on Public or Indian Lands

The Antiquities Act of 1906, 16 U.S.C. sec. 431, authorizes the withdrawal or reservation of lands containing objects of historical or scientific value. Under the Archaeological Resources Protection Act, 16 U.S.C. sec. 470aa, the excavation or alteration of any archaeological resource on public lands or lands belonging to Native Americans is prohibited without a permit. Additional protection for Native American remains and objects is provided for under the Native American Graves Protection Act, 25 U.S.C. secs. 3001 et seq.

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