Public Land History


  • 1776 - The Continental Congress declared the independence of the 13 colonies from Great Britian.

    Maryland called upon the new states with claims to the territory west of the Appalachian Mountains to cede their titles to the United States for the common benefit of the nation. Virginia and other states with claims rejected Maryland's request.

  • 1778 - Maryland refused to sign the Articles of Confederation until the states with claims to the western lands ceded their interests.

  • 1780 - New York ceded all western land claims to new U.S. Government. Virginia surrendered vast region north of Ohio River in 1781. Massachusetts ceded all western claims in 1784. Connecticut followed in 1786. South Carolina in 1787. North Carolina in 1790. Georgia in 1802. All these areas, collectively, constituted the public domain. [In an effort to appease Maryland and secure unanimous ratification of the Articles of Confederation, New York relinquished its interests to the lands west of the Appalachian Mountains. Maryland signed the Articles of Confederation.]

    The Congress of the Confederation called upon all the states to relinquish their claims to the western country and pledged itself to administering the lands for the common benefit of the nation.

  • 1781 - The Congress of the Confederation accepted New York's relinquishment of the interest in the western lands.

  • 1783 - Great Britian surrendered its interests to the lands south of the Great Lakes and east of the Mississippi River in Treaty of Paris.

  • 1784 - Virginia ceded its interests, except Kentucky, to the United States.

  • 1785 - Land Ordinance established rectangular system of cadastral surveys of public lands in Northwest Territory, north of Ohio River. This surveying system, by means of degrees of latitude and meridians of longitude, divided large areas of public lands into townships about 6 miles square, and subdivided each township into 36 square sections of 640 acres each. Survey lines ran either east and west, or north and south. Rectangular system accepted as standard for all future federal survey, because it provided an easy way to describe and locate tracts of the public domain.

    The land Ordinance also established important land reservations. In every surveyed township, 1 section was reserved for future use or support of public elementary education, and 4 sections were reserved for future disposition by Government of any mineral resources. Remaining 31 sections of each surveyed township authorized for sale by auction at minimum of $1 an acre - but to be sold only in units of either a section of 640 acres or partial township of about 20,000 acres. After survey and reservations, such as lands were to be subesequently sold at auction by the Board of Treasury of the new Government.

  • 1787 - Sale of first public lands directed by Congress as soon as four of the "The Seven Ranges" in the Northwest Territory had been surveyed, and plats forwarded to Commissioners of the Board of Treasury. Then, at irregular but well-advertised periods, at office of the Board in New York City, salable lands indicated on plats were offered for sale to highest bidders over minimum price of $1 acre. Sales continued, sporadically, for several years.

    South Carolina relinquished its claim to the public domain.

  • 1788 - First patent for single tract of public lands issued March 4th at office of Commissioners of the Board ofg Treasury in New York City. This and subsequent patents prepared by the Treasury Department, personnaly signed by the President, countersigned by the Secretary of State, and recorded by the State Department-before delivery.

  • 1796 - Act of May 18th provided for administration, survey, and sale of public lands in central part of Northwest Territory, north of the Ohio River. The act established position of executive Surveyor General, who supervised work of professional surveyors under contract to the Government. The established system of rectangular surveys was continued, but arrangement of the 36 sections within each township was modififed slightly and then utilized in that numerical pattern for all subsequent surveys of public lands. As part of their work, surveyors were required to describe the nature of soil, water, vegetation, and other aspects of lands under survey.

    As plats of survey were completed, they were forwarded to the Treasury Department in Philadelphia, where certain reservations were made in accordnace with the act. Any salt spring or saline water was reserved by the Government-the first reservation of this type ever.

    First road grant of public lands authorized for construction and management of wagon trail, later known as Zane's Trace, and also ferry service, between Wheeling in Western Virginia and Limestone in Ohio Territory.

  • 1789 - The Constitution gave Congress the "Power to dispose of and make all needful Rules and Regulations respecting The Territory and the other Property belonging to the United States."

    Congress established the Treasury Department and gave it the responsibility of overseeing the sale of public lands.

  • 1790 - The United States accepted North Carolina's relinquishment of the title to lands beyond the Appalachian Mountains. The area of Tennessee was normally considered part of the public domain, but the United States relinquished its interests to Tennessee in 1806 and 1846.

  • 1796 - The first general land law since ratification of the Constitution substantially reenacted the Land Ordinance of 1785. The regular survey system was retained. Public lands could still be sold in tacts no smaller than 640 acres, and the minimun price was raised to $2.00 an acre.

  • 1800 - The Land Law of 1800 reduced the size of tracts that could be sold to 320 acres and allowed purchasers up to 4 years to pay the amount bid.

  • 1801 - Act of March 3rd instituted first of many laws on pre-emption or preference rights of pioneers. Pre-emption favored squatters, and discriminated aganist land speculators and investors. During subsequent 40 years, Congress enacred 16 pre-emption laws.

  • 1802 - Georgia ceded its interest in the area south of Tennessee to the United States.

  • 1803 - Louisiana Purchase, negotiated by President Jefferson, resulted in acquisition of more then 500 million acres of public lands west of the Mississippi River. The Unites States purchased from France the territory drained by the western tributaries of the of the Mississippi River. The Louisiana Purchase doubled the size of the young American republic.

    Ohio entered the Union as first state carved from the public domain. The federal government retained title to public lands within Ohio's boundaries but gave the state Section 16 in each township to help promote the establishment of public schools.

  • 1812 - Act of April 25th established the General Land Office in Washington, D.C., as a bureau of the Treasury Department. Functions of the General Land Office embraced issuance of land warrants and grants, schedule of sales at various district land offices, collection of monies from land sales, preparation and issuance of patents or deeds, and the maintenance land records-including copies of patents, case records, tract books, original enteries, copies of patents, case records, and related data. Under supervision of a Commissioner, staff of first General Land Office consisted of chief clerk, drfatsman, general clerk, and six junior clerks. Commissioner was responsible for all planning, administration, and staff duties pertaining to organization and operations of the General Land Office and all districts land offices.

    First Commissioner appointed was Edward Tiffin, an Ohio stateman and former surveyor, who immediately became chief architect and executive manager of first organized system of public land management.

    The incipient system included all aspects of control, administration, recording, and transfer of public lands-by grant, sale, or other means-by the General Land Office, supported by district land offices, located appropriately throughout the Nation. At district land offices, tracts of surveyed public lands were sold at auction to highest bidder-at or above minimum price per acre specified by Congress. Auction sales were held irregularly, and lasted about 2 weeks-if enough tracts remained to be sold, and if enough prospective bidders appeared. After auction period, all lands remaining unsold were avilable indefinitely for over-the-counter sales at minimum price. To do this work, each district land office was staffed by a register of records, a receiver of monies, clerical assistants, and, from time to time, an auctioneer and his special clerk. Records of all land transactions were forwarded to the general Land Office for filing and subsequent preparation of patents or other land documents. Every issued patent was personally signed by the President until 1833, when a full-time secretary was authorized by Congress to sign the President's name. Completed patents were returned by General Land Office to original district land office for delivery to new owner of property. All of these processes and procedures were functional aspects of the new system of public land management organized and introduced by Commissioner Tiffin of the General Land Office.

  • 1818 - The Convention of 1818 with Great Britian gave the United States the Red River Valley of the North.

  • 1819 - Spanish cession of Florida plus adjustment of Spanish boundaries west of Mississippi River added more then 46 million acres to public domain.

  • 1820 - Act of April 24th abandoned credit system for buying public lands. Minimum price fixed at $1.25, and minimum unit of sale 80 acres. Public lands initially offered by district land offices at preannounced, scheduled public auction. Then, if unsold, lands became available for purchase at minimum proce on first-come-first-serve basis.

  • 1823 - First grant of public lands for construction of public wagon road in central Ohio. Various other wagon road grants were made from time to time, until 1869.

  • 1836 - Act of July 4th reorganized and expanded the operations of the General Land Office, but retained the existing field system of subordinate district land offices. Reorganization and expansion of the General Land Office was primarily an attempt to adjust to increasing work and to eliminate delays of several months in handling and processing of land transactions. Surveying became a new responsibility of the General Land Office, ending continual conflict with various Surveyors General. Under a Commissioner, the General Land Office was reorganized divisionally for: private land claims, public land claims, surveys, records, and adjudication. A recorder was authorized to certify and affix the seal of the General Land Office to all patents and similar documents. Also employed was a soliciter to perform judicial work. Retained for physically signing the President's name to all land patents was a secretary, who was replaced in 1878 by an executive clerk for the same purpose. Beginning in 1841, any appeals from decisions of the Commissioner were heard by the Secretary of the Treasury. (see 1849, Act of March 3rd)

  • 1837 - On the 25th anniversary of founding of first organized system of puplic land management, there were 65 district land offices associated with the General Land Office.

  • 1841 - Act of September 4th-also known as Pre-emption Act of 1941-established further preferential rights to settlers and squatters on public lands, in event of conflicts evolving from sale of disputed lands. Under conditions of building a dwelling and settling, a claimant could buy up to 160 acres, at $1.25 an acre. Act also granted 500,000 acres of public lands to each new State admitted to the Union for "internal improvements." Act also reserved saline lands from entry; this was the first salt reservation of public lands. Act was repealed in 1891.

  • 1845 - Texas became a State, but retained title to all unoccupied lands. Thus Texas was not a public-land State.

  • 1846 - Oregon Compromise settled British boundaries in far Northwest, providing the United States with additional area of over 183 million acres of public lands-including present States of Washington, Oregon, Idaho and western parts of Montana and Wyoming.

    The Oregon Compromise with Great Britian put the boundary between Canada and America form the Rocky Mountains to the Pacific Ocean at the 49th Parallel. The Pacific Northwest-Washington, Oregon, Idaho, and western Montana-was made part of the public domain.

  • 1846 - First bill authorizing free public lands for homesteads introduced by Andrew Johnson, but defeated in Congress.

  • 1847 - Mormons first settled at Great Salt Lake, after long trak westward over part of the Oregon Trail, following religious persecutions in Missouri and Illinois.

  • 1848 - Discovery of gold in California sparked rush of prospectors and miners, both amateur and professional, to the west. All claims made under local rules and miners' customs.

    Under the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidaglo, Mexico ceded California and the Southwest to the United States.

  • 1849 - Act of March 3rd created the Department of the Interior, a new executive or cabinet-level Department concerned with domestic needs and internal affairs of the Nation. Originally known also as the Home Department, first organization composed of four bureaus: General Land Office, trabsferred from the Treasury Department; Department of Indian affairs, transferred from the War Department; the Patent Office, transferred from the State Department; the Pension Office, transferred from the War Department.

  • 1850 - Purchase from Texas of a large area north and west of State, provided the United States with additional 75 million acres.

  • 1853 - Gadsden Purchase of 19 million acres from Mexico, provided the United States with additional public lands in southern Arizona & New Mexico.

  • 1853 - The United States, through the Gadsden Purchase, acquired 19 million acres from Mexico.

  • 1862 - The Homestead Act authorized unrestricted settlement on public lands to all settlers, requiring only residence, cultivation, and some improvement of a tract of 160 acres. Any person was elligible who was a head of a family or had reached the age of 21, who was a citizen or intended to become one, and who did not own as much as 160 acres. After living on the land and farming it for 6 months, he could buy the homestead at $1.25. But after 5 continuous years, the homesteader could apply for and receive a patent or title to 160 acres for a filing fee of $15. Originally passed by Congress on May 20th, the Homestead Act was later amended to increase area limitations under certain conditions. Subsequent liberalizations of the act were in accord with prevailing philosophy that public lands should be given free to bona fide farmers and stockmen, whose homesteads ultimately become permanent settlements. While the once-vital act served its original purpose of stimulating settlement of the Nation, it was destined for an active life of only about 70 years-when there no longer were enough public lands (open spaces) suitable for homesteading and capable of supporting a farm family. (see also 1863, the Homestead Act; 1877, Desert Land Act; 1902, T he Reclamation Act (basis for the Newlands project which diverted the Truckee River to Fallon, Nevada); 1904, Kincaid Act; 1916, Stock-Raising Homestead Act.)

  • 1862 - Act of July 1st granted extensive areas of public lands for construction, operation, and maintenance of transcontinental railroad and telegraph system between Missouri River and the Pacific Ocean. Granted to the Union Pacific and Central Pacific Railroad Companies were lands for the right-of-way, alternate sections to a depth of 10 miles on each side of the line, plus additional lands for staions, shops, and other property- a cumulative total of more than 20 million acres. Some of the granted lands were sold to settlers as a means of developing future railroad business. Other settlers, following the lifeline of the railroad, migrated to alternate sections of public lands along the right-of-way, and purchased tracts up to 80 acres usually at speculative prices.

  • 1862 - Morril or Land Grant Act authorized grants of public lands to help establish and support designated State vocational colleges teaching agriculture and mechanical arts. This act of July 2nd established a land grant system substancially the same as that first proposed in 1849 by Commssioner Butterfield of the General Land Office. Under the system, appropriate colleges and universities existed prior to 1862 could accept provisions of the act by individual State legislation, and were then known as land-grant institution. Asnew colleges and universities accepted provisions of the act by State legislation, they also became land-grant institutions. Each State accepting the act was granted an acreage of public lands in proportion to representation in Congress. For States embracing substantial areas of public lands, the grants were made in those States. If there were too few or no acres of public lands in a State, indemnity scrip was issued for public lands in another State having such lands. Granted lands could be used in place. But usually, the lands were sold or leased for the benefit of the land-grant college or university.

  • 1865 - First report of petroleum on public lands was recorded by the register and receiver of the district land offices at Humboldt, California. A few months later tracts believed to be valuable for such fuels minerals were withdrawn from any disposition. This was the first reservation of petroleum on public lands.

  • 1866 - The Mining Act declared all mineral lands of the public domain free and open to exploration and occupation. Minerla surveying districts established by the General Land Office. Prospectors, after filing at nearest land office, could claim mineral vein or lode upon payment of $5 an acre. (see also 1870, Placer Mining Act; 1872 The Mining Act.)

  • 1867 - Purchase of Alaska from Russia on June 20th, provided the United States with a vast territory-more then 365 million acres-of additional public lands.

  • 1870 - Act of July 9th provided for survey and sale of placer mining lands at $2.50 an acre. Also known as Placer Mining Act.

  • 1872 - General Mining Law identified mineral lands as a distinct class of public lands subject to exploration, occupation, and purchase under stipulated conditions. Claims for metallic minerals on about 20 acres of public lands were filed under this act, which legalized the appropriation of such lands for mining purposes much un accordance with local procedures established established during the California gold rush which, in turn, were based on earlier Spanish mining laws of the early Southwest. The act promoted private prospecting and development of metallic minerals on public lands by protecting private interests in mining claims. Under this act, all mineral lands were declared open to exploration and occupation, mining claims located on such lands were recognized and confirmed, and patents to such lands could be obtained from the Government. To obtain a patent for mining lands, it was necessary (1) to make a valid mineral discovery, (2) to invest $100 in improvements annually for 5 years, (3) to pay for a boundary survey, and (4) apply for the surface area of the lands included buy the boundary, at $2.50 an acre for a placer mine, or at $5.00 an acre for a lode mine.

  • 1872 - Congress created the Nations's first National Park from the public domain. Yellowstone National Park established near the junction of the boundaries of Idaho, Wyoming and Montana.

  • 1873 - Act of March 3rd (Coal Lands Law) authorized the location and sale of lands chiefly valuable for coal deposits.

  • 1873 - Timber Culture Act granted tracts of public lands to settlers who planted and cared for trees on the plains. This was first legislation intended to encourage reforestation as a means of conservation. Less than an unqualified success, the act was repealed in 1891.

  • 1877 - Movement to create forest reservations spearheaded by Secretary of the Interior. Protection and conservation of timber on public lands assumed by special force of timber agents, supervised directly by Commssioner of the General Land Office. This was first official recognition of urgent need for conservation of natural resources.

  • 1877 - Desert Land Act authorized disposition of 640-acre tract of arid public lands at $1.25 an acre to homesteaders upon proof of reclamation of lands by irrigation. Difficulties of reclamation subsequently reflected by more than 10 relief acts by Congress to aid aspiring settlers. In 1891, area limitation was reduced to 320 acres of desert lands. (see: 1902 Reclamation Homestead Act.)

  • 1878 - Timber and Stone Act authorized the negotiated sale of public lands especially valuable for either timber or stone, and otherwise unfit for cultivation. Act repealed in 1955 by the Multiple Surface Use Act.

  • 1879 - After extensive survey and study of lands and resources of the West, Major John W. Powell recommended to Congress the early revision of public land laws, which he characterized as antiquated and incongruous. Advocating classification of the various types of lands, he urged establishment of scientific system of survey and disposition for each of the land classes. He also recommended: a minimum farm unit or homestead of 2,560 acres in arid regions, communal pasturage districts without fences for homesteaders, and immediate measures for soil and water conservation in the West.

    The first Public Lands Commission was authorized by Congress to study the public land laws and reccomended changes.

  • 1879 - Act of March 3rd established the Geological Survey as a bureau of the Department of the Interior. A basic research agency of the Government, the Geological Survey became responsible for: collecting information on the occurrence, distribution, and quantity of the Nation's vast water and mineral resources; classifying and appraising various types of the Nation's land surface; and presenting geologic, geographic, or other scientific information as specialized reports or topograhic maps. In 1880, John W. Powell became the director of the Untited States Geological Survey. Congress established the U.S. Geological Survey. One duty of the new agency was the "classification of the public lands and the Geological Structure, mineral resources and products of the national domain".

  • 1880 - Further pre-emption or preference rights allowed squatters and settlers on public lands, whether or not surveyed, with 12 to 33 months credit for previous residence on same tract of lands.

  • 1880 - Office of National Parks established under the Department of the Interior. In 1916 became a separate bureau, and named National Park Service.

  • 1881 - Board of Law Review established within the framework of the General Land Office to assist in judicial matters. Board of three members-Commissioner McFarland and two of his lawyers-provided legal guidance. Board discontinued after several years, when more legal personnel employed by the General Land Office.

  • 1884 - Bureau of Labor created within the Department of the Interior. Renamed Department of Labor and became independent Government agency, in 1888. Transferred to Department of Commerce, and labor, in 1903. Attained cabinet-level status as Department of Labor, in 1913.

  • 1884 - Congress extended the provisions of the General Mining Law to Alaska but stated that no other public land laws applied.

  • 1887 - On 75th Anniversary of founding of the first organized system of public land management, there were 113 district land offices associated with the General Land Office.

  • 1887 - Hatch Act provided funds for establishing agricultural experiment stations at land-grant institutions.

  • 1890 - Population of U.S.A. is 62 million.

  • 1890 - A peak number of 123 district land offices in operations as field components of Federal system of land and resource management.

  • 1890 - Second Morril Act authorized permanent annual endowment to each land-grant college or university accepting the Land Grant Act of 1862. Endowment started at $15,000 per year, and increased over ten-year period to $25,000 per year. This act contained historic provision barring money from State institutions discriminating aganist Negroes. States in the South practicing segregation but which had equal but separate educational facilities were permitted equitable division of endowments between colleges for white and colored students. (see also: 1862, Morril or Land Grant Act; 1907, Act of March 14th.)

  • 1891 - Act of March 3rd decreased area limitation to 320 acres for homesteads under Desert Land Act of 1877. This act also rerpealed Timber Act of 1873 and several pre-emption and general land sales laws.

  • 1891 - President authorized by Congress to withdraw and reserve public lands with forests, to assure protection of federal timber lands and upland watershed areas. Care and conservation of such lands remained responsibility of Department of the Interior.

  • 1891 - The General Public Land Reform Law repealed the Preemption and Timber Culture Laws. Desert Land Law entries were reduced to 320 acres and the law's provisions were extended to Colorado. Townsite Laws were extended to Alaska and the sale of sites for trade and Manufacturing was authorized.

  • 1892 - The Timber and Stone Law was extended to the remainder of public domain (except Alaska).

  • 1894 - Carey Act authorized grants for reclamation of arid public lands. To encourage State as well as private irrigation efforts, the act offered certain States up to one million acres of arid public lands if occupying settlers would irrigate and cultivate the land. Minimum size of tracts specified 160 acres, with at least 20 acres under cultivation. Act was unsuccessful, largely because States lacked technical knowledge of large-scale irrigation projects. [The Carey Land Law provided up to 1 million acres of public land to western states interested in sponsoring large-scale irrigation projects.]

  • 1897 - Act of June 4th assigned responsibility to the Department of the Interior for administration, conservation, and use of large areas of public lands with forests. Designated National Forest Reserves, these large scale forest areas were surveyed, protected, and managed by the General land Office. Act also authorized mineral mineral prospecting, location, and entry of mining claims on these forest lands.

  • 1897 - Act of February 11th included language in the placer mining law which includes all public lands chiefly valuable for petroleum and other mineral oils.

  • 1897 - First National Forest Reserves, designated the Yellowstone Park Timberland Reserve, under the control and management of the General Land Office.

  • 1898 - Annexation of Hawaiian Islands by the United States. Since Hawaii had been an independent nation, it had no public lands.

  • 1898 - Principal public land laws extended to Territory of Alaska.

  • 1900 - Conservation movement propelled by President Theodore Roosevelt, who stated: "The forest and water problems are perhaps the most vital internal questions facing the United States."

  • 1900 - The Coal Lands Law of 1873 was extended to Alaska.

  • 1901 - Act of January 31st authorized the location and sale of saline lands under the mining laws.

  • 1901 - Bureau of Forestry created in the Department of the Interior. (see: 1905, Act of Feb. 1st.)

  • 1902 - Reclamation Act established system of water-development projects for the irrigation of arid lands and other purposes. Act also created a revolving fund, which was sustained by receipts from the sale and disposition of public lands in Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Kansas, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, new Mexico, North dakota, Oregon, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Utah, Washington and Wyoming. Act also authorized homesteading on as much as 160 acres of arid public lands, provided lands were reclaimed through irrigation and cost of water paid by each homesteader.

  • 1902 - Division of reclamation created with Geological Survey. Became Reclamation Service in 1907. Renamed Bureau of Reclamation in 1923. All status and name changes under the Depertment of the Interior.

  • 1903 - The second Public Lands Commission was appointed by President Theodore Roosevelt.

  • 1905 - Act of February 1st transferred Bureau of Forestry signed all national forest reserves from the Department of the Interior to the Department of Agriculture. Bureau of Forestry renamed the Forest Service. But functions of surveying and administration of the mining and land laws on forest lands remained under the management of the General Land Office of the Department of the Interior.

  • 1906 - All public lands valuable for deposits of coal withdrawn from entry by the Department of the Interior.

  • 1906 - Forest Homestead Act authorized limited homesteading on as much as 160 acres of public lands, classified for agriculture but located within a national forest. Few tracts were homesteaded under this act.

  • 1906 - First national munuments created at: Devils Tower, in Wyoming; Montezuma Castle and Petrified Forest, Arizona; El Morro, in New Mexico. Many other national monuments created in later years (Death Valley 1933).

  • 1906 - The Antiquities Law provided for the preservation and protection of the prehistoric, historic, and scientifically significant sites on public lands and the creation of national monuments.

  • 1909 - Enlarged Homestead Act increased area limitation in western States to 320 acres of public lands, when classified as dry-farming lands and not susceptible to irrigation.

  • 1909 - Act of March 3rd authorized extensive resurveys of public lands at discretion of the Commissioner of the General Land office. Act also authorized patents to homesteaders on public lands when such lands had potential coal value, but reserved mineral rights to the Government. A year later, act amended to open public lands having coal value to general entry.

  • 1912 - On the 100th year anniversary of creation of the General Land Office and the system of public land management, the office continued its important functions associated with the administration, conservation, and use of the public lands and natural resources of the remaining public domain. Under the Commissioner Dennet, about 530 persons were employed in the GLO, which occupied most of the Land Office Building-sometimes called the Old Post Office Building-in Washington, D.C. At 102 district land offices throughout the Nation were 415 office personnel plus 275 surveyors. Additional field service personnel brought the total employement to over 1,420 persons. Considerably expanded since its establishment 100 years earlier, the GLO administered a far more effective and modern system of public land and resource management for the Department of the Interior.

  • 1912 - The Three-Year Homestead Law reduced the time settlers had to reside on and cultivate their entries from 5 to 3 years.

  • 1914 - Act of July 17th allowed entry of mineral lands containing petroleum, nitrate, phosphate, potash, oil, gas, and asphalt. But such minerals reserved to the United States. A lease of coal deposits in Alaska was authorized.

  • 1916 - Stock-Raising Homestead Act increased area limitation for homesteading to 640 acres when public lands were suitable only for grazing livestock. Under this act, no cultivation of lands required, but some range improvements necessary. Replealed by the 1934 Taylor Grazing Act.

  • 1916 - Chamberlain-Ferris Act provided for revestement to Government of title to lands remaining unsold and held by Oregon & California Railroad. Lands originally granted for construction of railroad from northern boundary of California to Portland, Oregon. Administration of revested lands became responsibility of the General Land Office.

  • 1917 - Act of October 2nd included potash deposists among minerals subject to disposition under propspecting permits and leases.

  • 1919 - Undeveloped area of public lands in western oregon, originally granted to CoosBay Wagon Road Co for construction of a military wagon road, reconveyed to the U.S. Government. Administration of revested lands became responsibility of the General Land Office.

  • 1920 - Federal Power Commission created to control and coordinate private development of hydroelectric power on public lands.

  • 1920 - Mineral Leasing Act authorized Federal leasing of public lands for private extraction of oil, gas, coal, phosphate, sodium, and other minerals. Act assured orderly prospecting and exploration, and oppotunity for conservation. Initially, prospecting permits issued for exploration of minerals. Then, if deposit found, successful prospector given preference for issuance of lease. Lessee paid annual rental plus graduated royalty on own mineral production.

  • 1922 - General Exchange Act authorized exchange of tracts or areas of Federal lands for lands in private ownership, when lands to be exchanged were appraised at about equal value.

  • 1924 - A total of 84 district land offices supported the public land and resource management system of the General Land Office. In the following year, this total was reduced to 44 district land offices. Also in 1925, the positions of register and receiver were combined at each remaining land office.

  • 1925 - Patent Office, under the Department of the Interior since 1849, transferred to the Department of Commerce.

  • 1926 - The Recreation Act allowed conveyance of lease of public lands valuable for recreational purposes to state and local governments.

  • 1928 - Color of Title Act authorized discretionary issuance of patent to as much as 160 acres of public lands held in good faith but adverse possession for more then 20 years under claim or color of title. (see 1953, Act of July 28th.)

  • 1928 - A total of about 700 personnel were employed collectively at the General Land Office, at 29 district land offices, and in various field services-all related to public land and resource management.

  • 1928 - The Mizpah-Pumpkin Creek Grazing District was extablished by Congress as an experiment in leasing public lands for grazing purposes.

  • 1930 - President Herbert Hoover created the third commission to study public lands issues. The commission recommended in 1931 that the public domain be granted to the states, but this proposal was rejected by Congress.

  • 1933 - Act of March 31st created the Civilian Conservation Corps to activate and advance a public works program of national rehabilitation and conservation work. Under jurisdiction of the Department of the Interior, there were 175 CCC camps operating by the Spring of 1934.

  • 1933 - Soil Erosion Service established as an activity of the DOI to initiate and administer erosion projects throughout the US. In 1935, transferred to DOA, and expanded and renamed Soil Conservation Service.

  • 1933 - Division of Subsistence Homesteads created under the DOI to make loans and otherwise aid in purchase of subsistence homesteads under National Recovery Act. In 1935, function transferred to Rural Resettlment Administration.

  • 1934 - Taylor Grazing Act introduced one of the most comprehensive conservation programs ever attempted for the public lands and resources of the Nation. Primary purposes of the act was to stop continuing injury to the public rangelands through overgrazing, soil deterioration, and other misuse of the natural resources of this vast area mainly in the West.

  • All remaining unreserved and unappropriated public lands-chiefly in 10 western States, and excluding Alaska-were closed to indiscriminate settlement and use. Although reserved from transfer to private ownership, the lands remained open for staking mining claims and for public hunting, fishing, camping, and other outdoor recreation. The act authorized classification of the lands in order to assure proper usage, the exchange of lands of equivalent value between Federal and State or private owners, and Federal procedures to improve, develop, and conserve the public lands. The act also authorized establishment of grazing districts (first one in South Fork of Kern River, California) on a total of 80 million acres-for use of the livestock industry. Grazing permits were issues within each district. And isolated tracts not within a grazing district were leasable, with preference given to adjacent or nearby landowners in the stockraising business. Because of its reserved and preferential property status during subsequent years, this vast area of public lands became known as the national land reserve.

  • 1934 - Division of Grazing formed within DOI to administer various grazing districts established under the Taylor Grazing Act. In 1939, renamed the Grazing Service.

  • 1934 - General Land Office administered grazing leases on public lands outside of grazing districts and ohter land transfers under the Taylor Grazing Act.

  • 1934 - All remaining public lands withdrawn from sale prior to classification.

  • 1934 - President Franklin D. Roosevelt withdrew most public lands in western United States for classification.

  • 1937 - Bankhead-Jones Farm Tenant Act (title III) authorized Federal purchase of privately owned farmlands. Known as Land Utilization projects, these submarginal lands were incapable of producing sufficient income to support the family of each farm owner. Owner and family were relocated elsewhere, and the submarginal lands retired from agriculture production. Various tracts were then added piecmeal-at various times during the 25 years-to national parks, national forests, grazing districts, or reserved for other purposes. About 2 million acres-scattered through Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, Wyoming, and other States-later transferred to jurisdiction of DOI, and subsequently administered by the Bureau of Land Management within the next 10 years.

  • 1937 - Act of August 28th authorized and promulgated the first comprehensive program for timber conservation and production through sustained yeild management of forests on O&C lands of western Oregon. Area included revested (O&C Railroad lands) and reconveyed (Coos Bay Wagon Road Company) lands-about 2.68 million acres of forest. Under control and administration of the General Land Office, the extensive program embraced: development and improvement of the lands on a continuing basis, care and conservation of forest resources, and utilization of lands and resources to obtain the highest financial return consistent with sound forest management. As a subsequent result of this continuing program, the O & C lands provided annual crops of more than a billion board feet of timber.

  • 1938 - Small Tract Act authorized sale or lease to the US citizens of tracts not exceeding 5 acres of public lands, for use a home, cabin, camp, recreation, or business sites. Mineral rights were reserved by the US.

  • 1938 - The Oregon and California Revested Lands Sustained Yield Act was passed to enhance the management of General Land Office administered timberlands in western Oregon.

  • 1939 - The Alaskan Fire Control Service was created within the General Land Office.

  • 1940 - Activities of the Soil Conservation Service of DOA pertaining to soil and moisture conservation on lands managed by the Dept of the Interior were transferred to the General Land Office under DOI. SCS had been originally founded by DOI in 1933, and transferred in 1935 to DOA.

  • 1940 - Transportation Act afforded opportunity for some railroads to increase rates for passenger and freight traffic, providing they released all claims to earlier land grabts by U.S. Government. More than 70 land-grant claim releases were presented and approved, resulting in subsequent restoration of about 8 million acres of lands to Federal ownership.

    This ended a 90-year era in which vast tracts of public lands were granted by Congress for the promotion of new railroad construction. During this 90-year era, more than 75 land grants were made, aggregating over 158 million acres of public lands, and resulting in 21,500 miles of trackage forming an important transcontinental transportation network of the United States.

  • 1942 - Extensive withdrawals of public lands for military and defense use effected by the General Land Office by special authorization of the President. Withdrawals included lands for aerial bombing ranges, antiaircraft fields, combat training areas, artillery practice grounds, air navigation sites, flying schools, ammunition storage, ordnance depots, and other facilities. More than 7 million acres withdrawn during year, making an aggregate for 2 years of more than 13 million acres of public lands for military and defense use. Small airfields previously leased to private lessees by the General Land Office were acquired, with other lands, by the War Department.

  • 1945 - The Small Act was extended to Alaska.

  • 1946 - Bureau of Land Management created within DOI, on July 16th. The new bureau became successor to the General Land Office (founded in 1812) and the Grazing Service (founded in 1934). Responsibilities, functions, and personnel of both organizations were combined and transferred to the new BLM.

    Fred W. Johnson was selected as the first BLM Director.

  • 1946 - Oil and Gas Division established under DOI to unify policies and coordinate functions pertaining to Federal petroleum activities. In 1955, renamed Office of Oil & Gas.

  • 1947 - Acquired Lands Leasing Act authorized the issue of leases and permits fopr oil. gas, and other mineral resources on lands acquired by the U.S. Government.

  • 1947 - The Materials Act gave the Bureau of Land Management authority to dispose of timber and other resources.

  • 1947 - The Nicholson Plan provided a scheme for funding BLM's range management program through a new grazing formula.

  • 1948 - Revested Oregon & California Railroad lands opened to exploration, location, entry, and disposition under the genral mining laws. In all issued mineral patents, surface and surface resources (timber) retained in public ownership.

  • 1948 - Elimination of President's signature on all patents. Since 1833, the President's name had been written on every land patent by an authorized secretary or executive clerk. Prior to 1933, the President personally signed each land patent before issuance by the General Land Office.

  • 1948 - Marion Clawson became Director of the Bureau of Land Management. BLM began decentralizing many management and decision-making responsibilities from Washington to its field offices.

  • 1949 - Congress provided for the sale of public lands in Alaska.

    BLM began to manage its public timberlands outside the O&C area and Alaska.

  • 1950 - Population of the Unitet States: over 150 million.

  • 1951 - BLM inaugurated a new timber sales policy for the O&C lands; the volume of timber sold and price recieved both rose.

  • 1953 - Act of July 28th amended and simplified the Color Of Title Act of 1928. Under the new act, patents could be issued for claims of long standing, without reservation of minerals to US Government. A tract of as much as 160 acres of lands held in good faith but adverse posession for a period from prior to Jan 1 1901 continuously until date of application was entitled to patent, provided tax payments were made on the lands during this entire period.

  • 1953 - Edward Woozley was selected as BLM Director.

    The Outer Continental Shelf Act gave the Secretary of the Interior authority to lease mineral lands more than 3 miles offshore.

  • 1954 - Recreation & Public Purpose Act which amended and extended the General Recreation Act 1926, pertained to disposition of public lands for outdoor recreation and other public purposes. New act authorized lease or sale of as much as 640 acres of public lands in any 1 year to any State, county, or local government, or to a non-profit corporation or association. Lands could be used for outdoor recreation or other public purposes.

  • 1954 - Amendment to Small Tract Act of 1938 extended provisions of the act to unsurveyed public land and to O&C lands. Act also permitted the sale or lease of small tracts to corporations, associations, and governmental units as well as to individuals.

  • 1954 - Act of August 13th amending the general mining laws and the mineral leasing laws in order to permit the multiple development of all minerals, both locatable (metallic) and leasable (non-metallic), on the same tract of lands.

    The Multiple Mineral Development Act allowed for the development of locatable and leasable minerals on the same tract of public land.

    BLM's reorganization resulted in the creation of the State Office system.

    Act of September 3rd authorized the Department of the Interior to issue leases, permits, or easements to public agencies for the construction and maintenance of public works on lands administered by the Department of the Interior.

  • 1955 - Timber and Stone Act Repealed.

  • 1955 - Act of July 23rd-also known as the Multiple Surface Use Act-was essentially a conservation amendment to the general mining laws, suince it allowed for multiple use of both the surface and subsurface of the same tracts of public lands. The act prevented mining claims from being either staked or used for nonmining purposes; it also prevented timber waste on unpatented mining claims. Under this act, the US Government could acquire rights to surface resources by means of legal procedure. Also under this act, common varieties of minerals-such as sand and ravel- were excluded by the mining laws, and placed under jurisdiction of the Materials Act of 1947. As aresult, sand and gravel were no longer valid for staking and using lands under the mining laws, and were subsequently sold by competitive bids under the Materials act.

  • 1955 - Act of August 11th (Public Law 357) provided for entry and location under the mining law of uranium and other fissionable source materials on public lands classified or known to be valuable for deposits oflignite coal. These uraniferous lignite deposits were mainly in Montana, North Dakota, and South Dakota.

  • 1955 - Act of august 11th (Public Law 359) provided for entry and location under the mining law of mineral resources on a total of more than 7 million acres of public lands-scattered throughout 23 States and Alaska. These were lands which had originally been withdrawn, more than 40 years previously, for use as power and water sites. BLM estimated that Alaska public lands had 350 billion broad feet of timber and called for better managementof the resource.

  • 1956 - On 10th Anniversary of BLM there were 2,267 persons employed, of which nearly 90 percent were in the field offices. Five major activities-lands, minerals, range, forestry, and engineering-constituted the basic system of public land and resource management.

    Fish and Wildlife Act established United States Fish and Wildlife Service of the Department of the Interior. Under a commissioner of Fish and Wildlife, the Service consisted of two elements: the Bureau of Commercial Fisheries and the Bureau of Sport Fisheries and Wildlife.

  • 1957 - An oil discovery in southern Alaska led to intensive petroleum exploration and development in Alaska.

    Fires devestated Alaska. The Kuskokwin fire burned an area twice the size of Rhode Island.

  • 1958 - Act of June 30th endorsed Statehood for Alaska. Enabling Act including Federal grant of about 104 million acres of public lands within boundaries of Alaska, to be selected by the State government during the ensuing 25 years.

    Fish and Wildlife Coordination Act extended, amended, and changed the title of the Coordination Act of 1934. The new act authorized the Secretary of the Interior to make surveys and investigations of the public lands or other Federal lands suitable for wildlife conservation. Act also authorized acceptance of donations of lands or funds in futherance of wildlife conservation.

  • 1959 - Alaska formally admitted to the Union on January 3, the last public-land State.

    BLM began to use smokejumpers to fight fires in Alaska.

  • 1959 - Amendment to the Recreation & Public Purpose Act of 1954 extended to the O & C lands all land-leasing provisions of the original act. Another amendment, in 1960, liberalized acreage limitations for public lands transferred principally for State park and other outdoor recreationa and public purposes.

  • 1959 - Hawaii formally admitted to the Union on August 21st. Only private lands involved since it is not a public-land State.

  • 1959 - The Wild Horse Protection Act prohibited the roundup of wild horses by aircraft and motor vehicles.

  • Highest recorded price for privilege of drilling for oil on 1 acre of public lands on the Outer Continental Shelf was bid of $10,442 per acre for submerged lands in the South Pass area off the coast of Louisiana.

  • 1960 - The Public Land Administration Act allowed BLM to use forfeited deposits to rehabiliate public timberlands, to accept donations for the improvement and management of public lands, and to enter into cooperative agreements with others to better manage the public domain and its resources.

    BLM inaugurated Project 2012, a 50-year plan for improving the administration of the public domain.

    First extensive construction of major recreational facilities on public lands outside Alaska by BLM.

    Population of the United States: over 179 million

    Public Lands Administration Act initiated program to improve efficiency of the administration of public lands. Act authorized studies and investigations, cooperative agreements, modernization of fees required as service charges, rehabilitation of lands damaged by defaulting timber purchasers, charging road users for proportionate cost of maintaining roads, and the acceptance of money, services, or property for the improvement of public lands.

    Act of March 18th authorized the locating and patenting of mill sites adjoining placer mining claims.

    National Forest Multiple Use Act established congressional policy of multiple use of forest resources, and management of forest lands on a sustained yield basis.

    Total area of Indian reservations about 57 million acres, with a peak number of 250 individual reservations. Gradual increase during previous 25 years due to continuing acquisition of federally owned public lands as well as lands in private ownership.

  • 1961 - The Kennedy Administration introduced the "Third Conservation Wave".

    Nationwide inventory and classification program for all public lands inaugurated by BLM. System of "master unit" classification established to record residual transfers of lands. Completion of program allowed needed tenure adjustments, and provided sound basis for sustained management of public lands and resources.

  • 1961 - Karl Landstrom became Director.

    BLM emphasized a nationwide inventory and classification program for public lands to determine needed land tenure adjustments and improve resource use and developement.

    First addition to national park system during 1961 was transfer by Bureau of Land Management of 15,360 acres of public lands near Tucson, Arizona, for expansion of Saguaro National Monument.

    BLM inaugurated Master Unit plans to better determine desirable land tenure arrangements before acting on land-use applications.

    BLM issued its first recreation policy handbook. Prepared for Oregon, the policy called for the development of recreation sites on BLM-administered lands and led to the hiring of BLM's first recreational specialist.

  • 1962 - On the sesquicentennial of the establishment of the GLO and the founding of the first organized system of public land management, a total of 15 land offices support the BLM (successor to the GLO). Organization and functions of the BLM today reflect the principal areas of interest: lands and recreation, range and wildlife, forest resources, mineral resources, conservation and protection, and supporting services of administration and engineering All of these are elements of the national system of public land management, many times improved since its original establishment in 1812.

  • 1962 - Columbus Day windstorm in western Oregon destroyed 1.25 billion broad feet of lumber on BLM-administered lands.

  • 1963 - BLM's Vale Project was initiated in western Oregon to determine the value of managing not only livestock numbers on the public range but also grazing methods and land improvement methods.

    BLM established service centers in Portland, Oregon, and Denver, Colorado, to centralize administrative functions and technical expertise.

    Charles Stoddard selected as Director.

  • 1964 - BLM got its first statutory multiple use authority for managing public lands in the 1964 Classification & Multiple Use Act. This law was part of a three-piece package orchestrated by Congress that laid the foundations necessary for future enactment major land laws and regulations.

  • The centerpiece created the Public Land Law Review Commission, which was to conduct a broad-ranging study of federal land laws and policies. A second piece provided for the sale of some public lands during the interim until the study is completed and Congress acted. And the third piece was the act itself which provided for classifying the BLM-administered lands to identify those that should be made available for sale by the US Government. Those lands classiffied for retention and "interim management" during the life of the study were to be managed under the principles of muliple use and sustained yeild.

  • 1964 - The Land and Water Conservation Fund was established to fund the acquisition of outdoor recreation areas.

  • 1964 - The National Wilderness Act was enacted, but its provisions were not applied to BLM-administered lands.

  • 1965 - The Water Quality Act established water quality standards for the nation.

    The Water Resources Planning Act created a council to coordinate water resources work.

  • 1966 - Director Boyd Rasmussen appointed.

    The National Historic Preservation Act expanded national cultural resources policy to protect prehistoric and historic properties of regional and local importance.

    BLM officially established Resource Area Offices to provide better on-the-ground management of the public lands.

  • 1967 - BLM designated its first recreation area, the Red Rocks Recreation Lands in sounthern Nevada, under the Classification and Multiple Use Act.

  • 1968 - The Wild and Scenic Rivers Act provided for the preservation of free-flowing rivers. BLM administers portions of the Rogue River in Oregon, the Rio Grande in New Mexico, and several other rivers under this authority.

    The National Trails System Act allowed for the establishment of a nationwide trails system.

    Oil was discovered on Alaska's North Slope.

    BLM established its first primitive areas in Arizona and Utah through the land classification process.

    The "Johnny Horizon" program was initiated by BLM to promote public awareness of BLM-administered lands.

  • 1969 - The BLM's first wild horse range was established in the Pryor Mountains along the Montana-Wyoming border.

    The Boise Interagency Fire Center officially opened.

  • 1970 - The National Environmental Policy Act made protection of the environment a national priority by requiring all federal agencies to assess the impacts of their actions on the environment and to mitigate adverse effects.

    The Geothermal Stream Act provided for the leasing of geothermal energy on on public lands.

    Congress created the first National Conversation Area in the King Range of northern California to promote multiple use and sustained yield management of the area by BLM.

    BLM implemented Management Framework Plans under its planning system to provide better consideration of social and economic factors when making management decisions.

  • 1971 - Burt Silcock selected as Director.

    The Public Land Law Review Commission issued its report, One-Thrid of the Nation's Land. The Commission called for a revision of public land laws and policies to better meet the many demands being placed on the public lands.

    The Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act resolved land claims of Alaska Natives. The Natives were provided 40 million acres and more than $962,000,000. The act also provided for the Interior Department to withhold 80 million acres of public land from Native and state selection for study as potential national parks, wildlife refuge, wild and scenic rivers, and national forests.

    The Wild and Free Roaming Horse and Burro Act provided for the protection and management of these animals on federal lands.

    The Snake River Birds of Prey Area was established to protect valuable raptor nesting areas.

    The Department of the Interior set aside National Recreation Lands on BLM lands in the California Desert.

    Executive Order 11593 required federal agencies to inventory their lands to identify and protect significant cultural resource properties.

  • 1972 - The Federal Advisory Committee Act required more effective use of advisory boards by federal agencies. BLM restructured its advisory boards to reflect a broader range of public user and interest groups.

  • 1973 - Curt Berklund became BLM Director.

    BLM lost a suit brought by the National Resources Defence Council on the adequacy of BLM's programmatic environmental impact statement (EIS) for the range management program. BLM was required to prepare EISs on more limited areas.

    Congress declared the environmental study of the Trans-Alaska pipeline sufficient and approved project construction.

    The Endangered Species Act provided for the protection of plants and animals facing extinction, as well as their habitats.

  • 1975 - BLM's first automated land records system established in Alaska.

  • 1976 - October 21st Congress passed the Federal Land Policy & Management Act (FLPMA) the most sweeping and comprehensive land legislation this Century. Included in the declaration of policy in FLPMA was the premise that "...management [of these lands] be on the basis of multiple use and sustained yeild unless otherwise specified".

  • FLPMA goes further to add"...the public lands will be managed in a manner that will protect the quality of scientific, scenic, historical, ecological, environmental, air and atmospheric, water resources, and archeaological values; that, where appropriate, will preserve and protect certain public lands in their natural condition; that will provide food and habitat for fish and wildlife and domestic animals; and that will provide for outdoor recreation and human occupancy and use..."

  • FLPMA directs that management not only avoid permanent impairment of the productivity of the land, but also it not lead to permanent impairment of the "quality of the environment." Second, it expands on the list of uses that are embraced in the concept of multiple use. FLPMA recognizes the importance of minerals and natural scenic, scientific, and historical values.

  • FLPMA requires BLM to prepare land use plans (much the same as local zoning plans) but on a much larger scale. These land use plans would allocate resources and determines types and level of uses in any given area of the public lands.

  • FLPMA devoted an entire section to the California Desert. Congress declared the 12 million acres a National Conservation Area. The act states that the California Desert is a National treasure and must be protected because of its fragile environment. Congress mandated preparation of the first land use plan in the Califrornia Desert, which was prepared and completed by BLM in 1980, and referred to as the California Desert Conservation Area Plan.

  • 1976 - BLM inaugurated its nationwide Adopt-a-Horse program in an effort to resolve overcrowding of the public range by wild horses and burros.

  • 1976 - BLM completed its first Habitat Management Plan for public lands in the Arizona Strip District.

  • 1977 - BLM developed Resource Management Plans to be prepared in conjunction with Environmental Impact Statements; the planning system also provided for more specific resource activity plans.

    Frank Gregg selected as BLM Director.

  • 1978 - The Public Rangelands Improvement Act sought to improve range conditions on public lands.

    The Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act provided environmental safeguards for surface mining practices and ensured rehabilitation of mined areas.

  • 1980 - The Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act set aside millions of acres of public land in Alaska as national parks, national wildlife refuges, and wild and scenic river areas.

    BLM and the Forest Service proposed a "Jurisdictional Transfer Program" to consolidate lands and operations in an effort to increase management efficiency. The proposal was pursued under the Reagan Administration and came to be called the "BLM/FS Interchange." Congress, however, did not implement the proposal.

    The Energy Security Act advocated alternative energy sources by promoting the development of oil shale, syntheic fuel, wind power, and geothermal sources.

  • 1981 - Robert F. Burford was named BLM Director.

  • 1982 - The Federal Oil and Gas Royalty Management Act strengthened inspection and enforcement of onshore oil gas activity.

    Minerals Management Service (MMS) created when the Conservation Division was removed from the U.S. Geological Survey. BLM transferred its resposibilities for the Outer Continental Shelf to MMS in February. All onshore mineral responsibilities, except royalty accounting, were transferred from MMS to BLM in December, the BLM-MMS merger was completed by early 1983.

  • 1983 - Bear Trap Canyon in southwestern Montana was designated by Congress as BLM's first wilderness area. By 1988, 24 additional public land areas had been designated.

  • 1986 - Homesteading officially came to an end with the closing of Alaska lands. FLPMA had repealed the Homestead Laws in the lower 48 states in 1976 but allowed homesteaded to continue for another 10 years in Alaska.

  • 1987 - The Federal Onshore Oil and Gas Leasing Reform Act changed the leasing of oil and gas to an all-competitive bid system.

    Fish and Wildlife 2000, published by BLM as a stategic plan, emphasized the preservation and enhancement of ecosystems to ensure an "abundance and diversity of wildlife, fisheries, and plant resources on the public lands."

  • 1988 - The Anasazi Heritage Center opened in southwestern Colorado. The Center serves as both a museum and a facility for the study and interpretation of prehistoric cultures in the region.

    BLM released Recreation 2000, a long-range, stategic plan that outlines the Bureau's efforts to increase outdoor recreation opportunites on the public lands.

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