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Federal Lands Managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the Forest Service (FS): Issues for the 11th Congress

The 111th Congress, the Administration, and the courts are considering many issues related to the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) public lands and the Forest Service (FS) national forests. Key issues include the following.

Energy Resources. The Energy Policy Act of 2005 has led to new regulations on leasing programs and application of environmental laws to certain actions. H.R. 6 was enacted as P.L. 110-140 on December 19, 2007, without many of the federal lands provisions considered earlier.

Hardrock Mining. The General Mining Law of 1872 allows prospecting for minerals in open public domain lands, and staking a claim, developing the minerals, and applying for a patent to obtain title to the land and minerals. The House passed H.R. 2262 in the 110th Congress, to reform aspects of the General Mining Law, and a similar bill, H.R. 699, has been introduced in the 111th Congress.

Wildfire Protection. Various initiatives seek to protect communities from wildfires by expanding fuel reduction, and bills have been offered to restore forest health. Concerns over high and rising suppression costs have led to bills for separate wildfire suppression funding accounts. The economic stimulus legislation, P.L. 111-5, includes additional funding for fuel reduction.

Wild Horses and Burros. To reduce the number of wild horses and burros on the range and/or program costs, the BLM is considering three controversial options: euthanizing healthy animals, selling them without limitations, or ceasing to removing them from the range. H.R. 1018 has been introduced to amend the Wild Horses and Burros Act to limit euthanasia and sales.

National Landscape Conservation System. The BLM created the National Landscape Conservation System in 2000 to enhance the focus on specially protected conservation areas. The 111th Congress is considering measures to establish the 27 million acre system legislatively, including in Title Q of S. 22, which passed the Senate on January 16, 2009, and may debate the adequacy of funds for the system.

Wilderness. Many agency recommendations for wilderness areas are pending. Questions persist about wilderness review and managing wilderness study areas (WSAs). Nearly fifty wilderness area bills were introduced in the 110th Congress, and one was enacted into law. Bills have been introduced in the 111th Congress, and one, S. 22, passed the Senate on January 16, 2009.

National Forest System Roadless Areas. Debates about managing roadless areas—for wilderness values or development—persist, with differing regulations from the Clinton and Bush Administrations, and litigation challenging both sets of regulations.

FS NEPA Application. The FS has proposed altering its process for activity review under the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (NEPA), and has added activities that can be categorically excluded from such environmental and public reviews.

Many of these changes and proposals have been challenged in court. Other issues discussed briefly include national forest planning, national forest county payments, BLM land sales, and grazing management.

Click here to download the complete Federal Lands Managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the Forest Service (FS): Issues for the 11th Congress report.

Source: Congressional Research Service

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