Follow the Money

A Spatial History of In-Lieu Programs for Western Federal Lands

Joseph E Taylor III, Erik Steiner, Krista Fryauff, Celena Allen, Alex Sherman, Zephyr Frank

The BLM now manages more than
two-thirds of Nevada and
16% of all land in the Far West

BLM Material Sales amount to less than one tenth of one percent
of all Federal payments

Bureau of Land Management Materials Sales Payments

The Bureau of Land Management administers nearly 270 million acres, and since 1947 it has managed material extractions on its lands so a portion of the revenues return to western counties.

When the Department of Interior reorganized its structure after World War II (PL 70-263 and Reorganization Plan No. 3 of 1946), it eliminated the long maligned General Land Office and Grazing Bureau, and delegated their lands and regulatory functions to a new agency called the Bureau of Land Management. The goal was a new beginning and a more efficient era of land management, but neither the Department of Interior or the BLM could escape the past so easily. At one level, the federal domain remained beset by antagonisms between western states, industries, and the federal government, while postwar recreational and environmental advocates added new complications to the task of land management. At another level, the BLM inherited not only 270 million acres but all the laws that had guided federal land managers since the early nineteenth century that kept the agency firmly rooted in an older political economy of public lands. A brief list of the key laws must include federal land sales in states, the Homestead Act (PL 37-75), the Mining Act of 1872 (PL42-152), the Oregon & California Railroad (PL 64-86) and Coos Bay Wagon Road (PL 66-241) revested lands acts, the Federal Mineral Leasing Act (PL 66-146), the Taylor Grazing Act (PL 73-482), the Bankhead-Jones Farm Tenancy Act (PL 75-210), and all the adjustments to those laws over the years. There was no new beginning.

Despite this dense layering of legislative and administrative rules, there were still activities on the federal domain that escaped regulation. Most practices circled around what came to be known as “common varieties” of materials, including the extraction of surface minerals such as clay, gravel, sand, and stone, and the harvest of vegetation ranging from cactus to manzanita, mesquite and timber. In 1947, Congress established rules (PL 80-291) for the sale of land and materials by bids and contracts, and in 1955 it elaborated (PL 84-167) the terms under which these materials could be extracted by sale for commercial and industrial use or by which governments, miners, and non-profit organizations could use limited resources without charge.

These two acts also stipulated how the BLM had to distribute revenues from sales. Unlike the ratios adopted in other twentieth-century conservation laws, the materials acts of 1947 and 1955 used a formula first developed when Ohio joined the union in 1803 (PL 7-40) and then refined over the next century so that the Department of Interior apportioned 5 percent of net proceeds to the states and the other 95 percent to the Reclamation Fund (PL 57-161) for use in federal irrigation projects. As a result, as two scholars note, “the direct state and local financial interest these [BLM materials] sales is minimal” (Fairfax and Yale, 150), or at least their interest in these payments is far less than in the much more remunerative revenue-sharing programs related to the Federal Mineral Leasing Act, Forest Service 25%, and O&C Lands.

As the decades passed the significance of BLM materials payments further shrank. One reason was the simple impact of inflation, which meant that materials sales’ marginal compensation for lost taxes had a progressively smaller impact on county coffers. Another factor was the shifting priorities of federal land management. In 1960, Congress directed (PL 86-517) the Forest Service to manage its lands for multiple uses, including recreational and environmental interests, and in 1964 Congress extended (PL 88-607) that mandate to the BLM. The 1976 the Federal Land Policy and Management Act (PL 94-579) further limited the impact of materials sales by ending homesteading and prioritizing non-utilitarian uses. Meanwhile the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (PL 91-190) and Endangered Species Act of 1973 (PL 92-205) required the BLM to file environmental impact statements for all management actions. These laws had the effect of withdrawing ever more lands from commercial activities to protect native species and habitats. Thus as with the other laws guiding federal revenue-sharing and in-lieu payments, the contribution made by BLM materials payments on the budgets of western counties has only eroded over time, placing ever greater pressure on constrained local tax bases to support social services.



“An Act Appropriating the Receipts from the Sale and Disposal of Public Lands in Certain States and Territories to the Construction of Irrigation Works for the Reclamation of Arid Lands.” Public Law 57-161. (accessed 23 March 2016).

“An Act to Amend the Act of July 31, 1947 (61 Stat. 681) and the Mining Laws to Provide for Multiple Use of the Surface of the Same Tracts of the Public Lands, and for Other Purposes.” Public Law 84-167. (accessed 23 March 2016).

“An Act to Authorize and Direct that Certain Lands Exclusively Administered by the Secretary of the Interior Be Classified in Order to Provide for Their Disposal or Interim Management under Principles of Multiple Use and to Produce a Sustained Yield of Products and Services, and for Other Purposes.” Public Law 88-607. (accessed 16 March 2016).

“An Act to Authorize and Direct the National Forests Be Managed under Principles of Multiple Use and to Produce a Sustained Yield of Products and Services, and for Other Purposes.” Public Law 86-517. (accessed 23 March 2016).

“An Act to Promote the Development of the Mining Resources of the United States.” Public Law 42-152. (accessed 7 September 2015).

“An Act to Provide for the Disposal of Materials on the Public Lands of the United States.” Public Law 80-291. (accessed 23 March 2016).

“An Act to Enable the People of the Eastern Division of the Territory Northwest of the River Ohio to Form a Constitution and State Government, and for the Admission of Such State into the Union, on an Equal Footing with the Original States, and for Other Purposes.” Public Law 7-40. (access 23 March 2016).

“An Act to Secure Homesteads to Actual Settlers on the Public Domain.” Public Law 37-75. (accessed 23 March 2016).

“An Act to Stop Injury to the Public Grazing Lands by Preventing Overgrazing and Soil Deterioration, to Provide for Their Orderly Use, Improvement, and Development, to Stabilize the Livestock Industry Dependent upon the Public Range, and for Other Purposes.” Public Law 73-482. (accessed 16 March 2016).

“An Act to Provide for the Disposal of Materials on the Public Lands of the United States.” Public Law 80-291. (accessed 23 March 2016).

“Endangered Species Act of 1973.” Public Law 93-205. (accessed 16 March 2016).

Fairfax, Sally K. and Carolyn E. Yale. Federal Lands: A Guide to Planning, Management, and State Revenues. Washington, DC. Island Press, 1987.

“Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976.” Public Law 94-579. (accessed 16 March 2016).

“National Environmental Policy Act of 1969.” Public Law 91-190. (accessed 16 March 2016).

“Reorganization Act of 1945.” Public Law 79-263, (accessed 16 March 2016).

“Reorganization Plan No. 3 of 1946.” (accessed 16 March 2016).

Skillen, James R. The Nation’s Largest Landlord: The Bureau of Land Management in the American West. Lawrence. University Press of Kansas, 2009.

Skillen, James R. Federal Ecosystem Management: Its Rise, Fall, and Afterlife. Lawrence. University Press of Kansas, 2015. a