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Groups Celebrate 40th Anniversary of Public Lands Legislation

  • Written by Eric Tegethoff

Public News Service Forty years ago today, legislation changed the way the Bureau of Land Management looks after public lands, making preservation for future generations one of its goals. The Federal Land Policy Management Act or FLPMA was signed into law by President Gerald Ford in 1976. Before then, public lands had been used largely for ranching, and oil and gas development.

Tom Uniack, the executive director of the group Washington Wild, said those lands are now handled by the BLM in a different way.

"It brought in a multiple-use perspective to management, which includes conservation, which has really guided where the agency has moved since then," he said.

There are more than 400,000 acres of BLM land in Washington state. Notable BLM landmarks include the Juniper Dunes Wilderness, the Chopaka Mountain Wilderness Study Area, and the recently-designated San Juan Islands National Monument. The BLM oversees one out of every ten acres of land in the nation.

The Act also directed BLM to periodically inventory its lands, and the resources on those lands. Uniack said about three percent of BLM lands in Washington state are protected as part of the conservation land system. He added next year, the public can be involved in planning meetings for these lands.

"There's a Resource Management Plan for all the lands in Washington state that BLM manages, and Washington Wild and other groups are working to make sure that we can add some conservation protections," he added.

Conflict has sometimes arisen over language in the Act that promotes both "sustained yield" and "multiple use," but recreation has aways been integral to BLM landscapes. Uniack cited a recent study that found BLM lands generated $18 million in economic activity within 50 miles of recreation sites in Washington.

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


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