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40-Year-Old Legislation Changed the Course of Public Lands

The Upper Missouri River Break National Monument in central Montana is Bureau of Land Management-administered public land. (Bob Wick/BLM)
The Upper Missouri River Break National Monument in central Montana is Bureau of Land Management-administered public land. (Bob Wick/BLM)
October 21, 2016

HELENA, Mont. – Today marks the 40th anniversary of the Federal Land Policy Management Act (FLPMA), legislation that changed how the Bureau of Land Management oversees public lands.

Before the Act passed in 1976, the BLM largely managed its lands for ranching, and oil and gas development. FLPMA altered the agency's mission, directing it, among other things, to conserve land for future generations.

Mark Good, central Montana field director for the Montana Wilderness Association, said the state's landmarks like Glacier National Park are well known, but BLM lands are less appreciated.

"At least in the eastern part, they represent some of the last remaining blocks of unbroken prairie on all the Great Plains, which makes them special and unique," he said. "And most of these are great places just to go, to provide some of the better opportunities to experience solitude and naturalness and primitive recreation."

Good said some of Montana's notable BLM landmarks include the Upper Missouri River Break National Monument, Humbug Spires and the Terry Badlands. The agency manages about eight million acres of land in the Treasure State.

FLPMA also requires the BLM to inventory its land and resources periodically. In some cases, this involves assessing whether land should be protected as wilderness. Good said that's the case with land near the Lewistown Field Office in central Montana, with a draft revision of plans for the area to be released this year.

"They identified a couple hundred thousand acres as having wilderness characteristics, so we would expect that a good proportion of those areas will be managed in a manner that will protect those wilderness characteristics," he added.

Multiple use of public lands has been a legacy of FLPMA as well, and recreation is integral to local economies near BLM lands. According to data from the research firm ECONorthwest, BLM lands generated more than $140 million in direct spending within 50 miles of recreation sites in Montana.

Support for this reporting was provided by The Pew Charitable Trusts.

Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - MT