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40 Years On, Public Lands Legislation Still Proves Valuable

The Steens Mountain Wilderness in southern Oregon is managed by the Bureau of Land Management. (BLM Oregon and Washington)
The Steens Mountain Wilderness in southern Oregon is managed by the Bureau of Land Management. (BLM Oregon and Washington)
October 21, 2016

PORTLAND, Ore. – Forty years ago today, President Gerald Ford signed legislation that changed the way the Bureau of Land Management handles public lands, making sure conservation is one of its main goals. Before the Federal Land Policy Management Act or FLPMA, land was largely leased for ranching, oil and gas, and other types of development.

Dan Morse, conservation director for the Oregon Natural Desert Association, said FLPMA helped unify public lands across the country under one vision for the future.

"FLPMA helped bring about the BLM and an emphasis on keeping those lands instead of disposing them, managing them for multiple uses, including conservation, including all forms of land use, and it helped public lands become what they are today," he said.

There are 15.7 million acres of BLM lands in Oregon today. Morse said some of the highlights in Oregon include Steens Mountain, the Owyhee Canyonlands, and the John Day River, one of longest undammed rivers in the western United States.

FLPMA also ensures the public has a voice in how the land is managed. Morse said there are two opportunities for involvement in Resource Management Plans coming up, in the Vale District in southeast Oregon and in the Lakeview District. He said one of the BLM's most important jobs is assessing public lands for their use, because not every land use can occur in every place.

"There are areas better suited to conservation-type management or areas better suited to other types of land use," he explained. "And really, it comes down to that very specific look at what the impacts might be, what the benefits and costs might be socially, and understanding whether or not that kind of use is sustainable going forward."

Recreation also is an essential part of BLM's multiple-use goal, and helps economies near recreation sites thrive. In Oregon, visitors in 2014 spent $185 million in communities within 50 miles of BLM lands, according to the research group ECONorthwest.

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

Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - OR