8 Things You Didn’t Know About the Bureau of Land Management


One of nine bureaus under the Interior Department, the Bureau of Land Management’s roots go back to America’s founding. BLM was established on July 16, 1946, when the General Land Office and the U.S. Grazing Service were merged. More than 70 years later, it remains a small agency with a big job -- managing public lands for multiple-uses like recreation and natural resource development for the benefit of present and future generations. 

Check out these interesting facts about the current responsibilities and duties of BLM. 

1. BLM’s predecessor helped homesteaders settle the American west. The General Land Office, which was founded in 1812 and later became BLM, oversaw the disposition of ceded and acquired lands. This office helped organize western land settlement after our young nation began acquiring land through the Louisiana Purchase. Today, BLM continues to maintain more than nine million historical land documents and records available to the public.

A black and white photo of four women standing with their mapping gear.
This 1918 photo shows the all-female survey crew from the U.S. General Land Office, Minidoka Project, Idaho. Photo by Bureau of Land Management.

2. BLM oversees 245 million surface acres of public lands for the American people. The agency manages 1 in 10 acres in the U.S., or about 12 percent of the landmass of the U.S. That’s a little bit less than the size of Texas. The land is primarily located in the western states, including Alaska, California, New Mexico and Wyoming. 

A dark stormy sky looms in the background as Eagle Tail Mountain juts up from a desert floor.
The 97,880-acre Eagletail Mountains Wilderness is about 65 miles west of Phoenix, Arizona. Photo by Bureau of Land Management.

3. BLM’s oil and gas program is a boon for the U.S. economy. In 2018 oil and gas development on Bureau-managed lands supported over 470,000 jobs nationwide and contributed $105 billion to the economy. The over $3 billion of annual proceeds from leases and royalties in 32 states is split between the U.S. Treasury and the state where the energy is developed. In addition, BLM manages operations on roughly 4,500 oil and gas leases on behalf of tribes and individual Indian mineral owners. 

Two oil pumpers dot rolling hills with mountains looming in the distance.
An oil rig on some of the 32 million acres under lease to developers. Photo by Bureau of Land Management.

4. BLM firefighters protect public lands, wildlife neighboring communities from the threat of wildfires. Switching camouflage for flame-resistant gear, many veterans continue to serve our nation by joining BLM firefighting crews. Currently there are eight BLM veteran wildland fire crews ready to respond to crises across the country. BLM also partners with other federal agencies through the National Interagency Fire Center to prevent and manage wildfires. In February, BLM announced the installation of 11,000 miles of fuel breaks in the Great Basin to prevent the spread of wildfire. Beyond fighting fires, Smokejumpers in Idaho recently used their sewing skills to make and then donate over 2,000 masks to combat COVID-19.

Smoke rises from a raging fire on a prairie, as a lone firefighter walks just outside the flames.
A veteran firefighter walks through a blaze in Oregon. Photo by Caleb Strough, Bureau of Land Management.

5. Many BLM-managed lands serve as outdoor laboratories, allowing students to discover the ancient world through real artifacts. Forty years ago, BLM created temporary buildings to protect the Cleveland-Lloyd Dinosaur Quarry in Utah. Today the Cleveland-Lloyd Dinosaur Quarry features a state-of-the-art, sustainable building. These artifacts still enlighten students to the wonders of studying the past, and give them the foundation of geology and paleontology -- inspiring lifelong stewards of America’s public lands.  

A young girl peers down at a large footprint in the sand.
A student studies a dinosaur footprint. Photo by Bureau of Land Management.

6. Awesome recreational activities abound on BLM-managed public lands. From traditional activities like hiking, hunting, and fishing to daring adventures like mountain biking, horseback riding, whitewater rafting, hang-gliding and off-highway vehicle driving, there are so many fun activities available on public lands. Over 6,000 miles of National Scenic and Historic Trails provide wonderful connections to nature in 15 states. Experience them yourself -- find outdoor opportunities in your area

A mountain biker makes a jump on a mountainside trail surrounded by large trees.
A mountain biker clears a hill on the Sandy Ridge Trails in Oregon. Photo courtesy of Leslie Kehmeier, International Mountain Bicycling Association.

7. Public lands power American homes and businesses. BLM’s “all of the above” energy approach generates an increasing amount of energy on public lands. Over 308 million tons of coal were produced on federal land in 2018, most of it used for generating electricity. Forty percent of the country’s geothermal energy is generated on public lands. In addition to overseeing energy development on public lands, BLM also authorizes transmission and pipeline projects to carry power to growing markets in the West and Southwest.

Power lines and wind turbines tower into the sky on a rocky plain.
A view of utilities and wind turbines in the California Desert Conservation Area Photo by Bob Wick, Bureau of Land Management.

8. BLM’s grazing program helps support healthy rangelands. BLM manages livestock grazing on 155 million acres of public lands, preserving open spaces and shaping the character of the American West. Reindeer grazing across 3.8 million acres is just one of the many grazing opportunities. Learn more about BLM’s rangelands and grazing program.

A large group of sheep cover one side of a hill into the mountains.
Sheep graze on hills managed by the BLM. Photo by Bob Wick, Bureau of Land Management.

While the Bureau of Land Management may be a relatively small agency, its mission as the largest federal land manager has a huge impact on how we interact with public lands.

What else can you learn about the Bureau of Land Management? Visit www.blm.gov to find out.