The Federal Land Management Agencies

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Updated February 16, 2021
The Federal Land Management Agencies
The Property Clause in the U.S. Constitution (Article IV,
management missions and purposes, which are briefly
Section 3, clause 2) provides Congress the authority to
summarized in this In Focus.
acquire, dispose of, and manage federal property. Currently,
Forest Service
approximately 640 million acres of surface land are
FS was established in the Department of Agriculture in
managed by the federal government, accounting for nearly
1905 and is charged with conducting forestry research,
28% of the 2.3 billion acres of land in the 50 states and
providing assistance to nonfederal forest owners, and
District of Columbia. Four federal land management
managing the 193 million acre National Forest System
agencies (FLMAs) administer 606 million acres (95%) of
(NFS). The NFS includes 154 national forests; 20 national
these federal lands:
grasslands; and various other federal land designations in

43 states, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Most
Forest Service (FS), in the Department of Agriculture,
NFS land is in the West, although FS manages more than
manages the 193 million acre National Forest System.
half of all federal lands in the East.
 Bureau of Land Management (BLM), in the Department The first forest reserves—later renamed national forests—
of the Interior (DOI), manages 244 million acres of
originally were authorized to protect the lands, preserve
public lands.
water flows, and provide timber. These purposes were

expanded in the Multiple-Use Sustained-Yield Act of 1960
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), in DOI, manages
(16 U.S.C. §§528-531). This act added recreation, livestock
89 million acres as part of the National Wildlife Refuge
grazing, and wildlife and fish habitat as purposes of the
national forests. The act directed that these multiple uses be

managed in a “harmonious and coordinated” manner and
National Park Service (NPS), in DOI, manages 80
“in the combination that will best meet the needs of the
million acres in the National Park Sys tem.
American people.” The act also directed FS to manage
renewable resources under the principle of sustained yield,
Most of these lands are in the West, where the percentage
meaning to achieve a high level of resource outputs in
of federal ownership is significantly higher than elsewhere
perpetuity, without impairing the productivity of the lands.
in the nation (see Figure 1). The remaining federal acreage
In addition, Congress directed FS to conduct long-range
is managed by several other agencies, including the
planning efforts to manage the national forests. Balancing
Department of Defense. The federal estate also includes
the multiple uses across the NFS has sometimes led to
areas on U.S. territorial lands and offshore and subsurface
conflicts regarding management decisions and priorities.
mineral resources (not discussed here). The four FLMAs
were established at different times with different
Figure 1. Federal Land Managed by FS, BLM, FWS, and NPS

Source: CRS.
Note: BLM = Bureau of Land Management; FS = Forest Service; FWS = Fish and Wildlife Service; NPS = National Park Service. In this CRS
product, the West refers to the fol owing states: AK, AZ, CA, CO, ID, MT, NM, NV, OR, UT, WA and WY.

The Federal Land Management Agencies
Bureau of Land Management
fishing, bird-watching, education, etc.) are considered
BLM was formed in 1946 by combining two existing
“priority uses.” Determining compatibility can be
agencies. BLM currently administers more onshore federal
challenging, but the specificity of the mission generally has
lands than any other agency—244 million acres. BLM
minimized conflicts over refuge management and use.
lands are heavily concentrated (99.9%) in the 12 western
states. Nearly half of the total acreage is in two states—
National Park Service
Alaska (29%) and Nevada (19%). BLM lands, officially
NPS was created in 1916 to manage the growing number of
designated as the National System of Public Lands, include
national parks and similar protected areas. The National
grasslands, forests, high mountains, arctic tundra, and
Park System has grown to 423 units with diverse titles—
deserts. BLM lands often are intermingled with other
national park, national preserve, national historic site,
federal or private lands, and the agency has authority to
national recreation area, national battlefield, and many
acquire, dispose of, and exchange lands under various
more. NPS administers 80 million acres of federal land in
all 50 states and the District of Columbia. The agency also
manages some land in U.S. territories. Roughly two-thirds
As defined in the Federal Land Policy and Management Act
of the system’s lands are in Alaska.
of 1976 (43 U.S.C. §§1701 et seq.), BLM management
responsibilities are similar to those of FS—sustained yields
NPS has a dual mission—to preserve unique resources and
of the multiple uses, including recreation, grazing, timber,
to provide for their enjoyment by the public. Park units
watershed, wildlife and fish habitat, and conservation. For
include natural areas (e.g., Yellowstone, Grand Canyon,
instance, about 155 million acres are available for livestock
Arches National Parks); prehistoric sites (e.g., Mesa Verde
grazing, and about 34 million acres are managed by BLM
National Park, Dinosaur National Monument); and special
as National Conservation Lands. Some lands are withdrawn
places in American history (e.g., Valley Forge National
(restricted) from one or more uses or managed for a
Historic Park, Gettysburg National Military Park, the Statue
predominant use. The agency inventories its lands and
of Liberty National Monument), as well as areas that focus
resources and develops land-use plans for its land units. In
on recreation (e.g., Cape Cod National Seashore, Glen
addition, BLM administers onshore federal energy and
Canyon National Recreation Area). NPS laws, regulations,
mineral resources, covering approximately 710 million
and policies emphasize the conservation of park resources
acres of federal subsurface mineral estate—including the
in conservation/use conflicts, and the system’s lands and
subsurface of many national forests. BLM also provides
resources generally receive a higher level of protection than
technical supervision of mineral development on about 59
those of BLM and FS. The tension between providing
million acres of tribal lands. Conflicts sometimes arise
recreation and preserving resources has produced many
among and between users and land managers as a result of
management challenges for NPS.
the diversity of the lands and multiple-use opportunities
provided on BLM public lands.
Selected CRS Products
CRS Report R42656, Federal Land Management Agencies
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
and Programs: CRS Experts
The Fish and Wildlife Service was created in 1940 and
reestablished as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS)
CRS Report R43429, Federal Lands and Related
in 1956, although the first national wildlife refuge was
Resources: Overview and Selected Issues for the 116th
established by executive order in 1903. In 1966, selected
FWS-administered lands were aggregated into the National
Wildlife Refuge System (NWRS), administered by FWS.
CRS Report R42346, Federal Land Ownership: Overview
The NWRS includes 89 million acres of wildlife refuges,
and Data
waterfowl production areas, and coordination areas in the
50 states (of which 77 million acres [87%] are in Alaska).
CRS Report RL34273, Federal Land Ownership:
In addition, the NWRS includes 652 million acres of mostly
Acquisition and Disposal Authorities
territorial lands and submerged lands and waters as part of
several mainly marine wildlife refuges and marine national
CRS Report R45340, Federal Land Designations: A Brief
monuments. FWS also manages other lands within and
outside of the NWRS through other authorities, agreements,
easements, or leases or in a co-management or secondary
CRS Report R45480, U.S. Department of the Interior: An
jurisdiction capacity. In addition to administering the
NWRS, FWS enforces various wildlife laws, protects
endangered species, and manages migratory birds.
Katie Hoover, Coordinator, Specialist in Natural
Resources Policy
In contrast to the multiple-use missions of FS and BLM,
Laura B. Comay, Specialist in Natural Resources Policy
FWS manages the NWRS through a dominant-use
R. Eliot Crafton, Analyst in Natural Resources Policy
mission—to conserve plants and animals for the benefit of
Carol Hardy Vincent, Specialist in Natural Resources
present and future generations. Other uses (timber cutting,
grazing, etc.) may be permitted, to the extent that they are
compatible with the NWRS mission and purposes of
NWRS units, but wildlife-related activities (hunting,

The Federal Land Management Agencies

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