The Bureau of Land Management goes back to the Land Ordinance of 1785, and the Northwest Ordinance of 1787. These two laws provided the survey and settlement of the lands that the original 13 colonies ceded to the Federal government after the War of Independence.
As additional lands were acquired by the United States from Spain, France, and other countries, Congress instructed that they be explored, surveyed, and made available for settlement.
In 1812, Congress established the General Land Office within the Department of the Treasury, to oversee the disposition of Federal lands. As the 19th century progressed and the Nation's land base expanded further west, Congress enacted the Homesteading Laws and the Mining Law, in 1872, which encouraged the settlement of the land.
These statutes served one of the major policy goals of the young country-- settlement of the Western territories. With the exception of the Mining Law of 1872, and the Desert Land Act of 1877 (which was amended), all have since been repealed or superseded by other statutes.
The late 19th century marked a shift in Federal land management priorities with the creation of the first national parks, forests, and wildlife refuges. Congress signaled a shift in the policy goals served by the public lands, by withdrawing these lands from settlement. Congress recognized that they should be held in public ownership because of their other resource values.
In the early 20th century, Congress took additional steps toward recognizing the value of the assets on public lands and directed the Executive Branch to manage activities on the remaining public lands. The Mineral Leasing Act of 1920, allowed leasing, exploration, and production of selected commodities such as coal, oil, gas, and sodium, to take place on public lands.
The Taylor Grazing Act of 1934, established the U.S. Grazing Service to manage the public rangelands. And the Oregon and California (O&C) Act of August 1937, required sustained yield management of the timberlands in western Oregon.
In 1946, the Grazing Service was merged with the General Land Office to form the Bureau of Land Management within the Department of the Interior. The BLM had no unified legislative mandate until Congress enacted the Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976 (FLPMA).
As the BLM is entering the 21st century, they are continuing service to the public while strengthening partnerships with all who use or care about the public lands. Working together, we can succeed in restoring and maintaining the health, diversity, and productivity of America's public lands for the use and enjoyment of present and future generations.