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Public Lands 101

by | Public Lands

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For gravel & adventure cyclists, like many other outdoor sports, having access to public land gets you a ticket into the game. This post is a basic introduction to public lands in the United States.

Being a passionate gravel rider I am grateful for access to public dirt roads to say the least. I wanted to learn some of the very basics about public lands. What exactly are public lands in the United States? 

Public lands can be described as land or natural resources owned and managed by the government for the benefit of the public. These lands are held in trust for the people of the United States and are used for a variety of purposes, including recreation, conservation, and resource extraction.

The Department of Agriculture and the Department of Interior are the major federal land management agencies overseeing our public lands. The Department of Agriculture’s Forest Service and the Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Land Management (BLM), Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), and National Park Service (NPS) manage about 95% of these lands.

The history of public lands in the United States dates back to the early 19th century when the federal government started to acquire large amounts of land from foreign countries, Native American tribes, and private landowners.

United States Federally Owned Land

US-Federal Agencies Map

One of the primary purposes of public lands is to provide outdoor recreational opportunities for the public. And being a gravel cyclist I would definitely fall under this category. Public lands include national parks, national monuments, national forests, wildlife refuges, and other areas that are open to the public for recreational use.

Public lands also play a key role in conserving natural resources and protecting wildlife habitats. The government manages public lands to ensure that they remain healthy and productive for future generations. This includes protecting watersheds, preserving forests, and managing wildlife populations.

In addition to recreation and conservation, public lands are also used for resource extraction. The government leases public lands to private companies for mining, logging, and oil and gas exploration. These activities can generate revenue for the government, but they can also have negative impacts on the environment.

One of the most significant challenges facing public lands today is balancing the competing interests of recreation, conservation, and resource extraction. The government must manage public lands in a way that allows for the sustainable use of natural resources while also preserving them for future generations. This requires detailed planning and management, as well as the involvement of stakeholders from various sectors, including industry, conservation groups, and the general public.

US-Federal-Agencies-Map
Bureau of Land Management (BLM)

Living in northwest Colorado, I am grateful for what seems like endless dirt roads to explore on BLM land. The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is an agency responsible for managing public lands. The BLM is responsible for managing over 245 million acres of public lands, primarily in the western United States. The agency’s mission is to manage public lands for multiple uses, including recreation, conservation, and resource extraction. The BLM is responsible for managing a wide range of lands, including national monuments, wilderness areas, and grazing lands.

US Forest Service

The U.S. Forest Service is responsible for managing over 193 million acres of public lands. The agency’s primary mission is to manage forests for multiple uses, including recreation, conservation, and resource extraction. The U.S. Forest Service oversees national forests, grasslands, and other areas, including wilderness areas, which are managed for their natural and scenic qualities.

The National Park Service

The National Park Service is responsible for managing public lands. The agency was established in 1916 and is responsible for managing over 84 million acres of public lands. The National Park Service oversees 63 national parks, as well as national monuments, historic sites, and other areas of significance. The agency’s primary mission is to preserve and protect these areas for the enjoyment of future generations.

US Fish & Wildlife Service

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is responsible for managing public lands for the conservation of fish, wildlife, and plants. The agency manages over 150 million acres of public lands, including national wildlife refuges, wetlands, and other areas that are critical for the conservation of wildlife.

US-Department-of-Agriculture-Sign
Department-of-Interior-Sign
Forest Service Road Rio Blanco County Colorado

Public lands provide numerous benefits to society, including recreation and conservation. However, managing public lands is a complex and challenging task that requires careful planning and management. The government must balance the competing interests of various stakeholders while also preserving these lands for future generations.


Thanks,
J Thompson