Truman Creates the Bureau of Land Management Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

President Harry S. Truman combined the Taylor Grazing Service with the General Land Office to form the Bureau of Land Management, a resource agency to oversee federal land. The new bureau represented an increase in federal oversight of grazing lands, but it lacked the political clout to remain independent of powerful business interests and became coopted by the very people it was designed to regulate.

Summary of Event

In July, 1946, President Harry S. Truman merged the Department of the Interior’s General Land Office (GLO) with the financially wounded Taylor Grazing Service to create the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). The Grazing Service had been caught in a bruising struggle between the House Appropriations Committee and U.S. Senator Patrick Anthony McCarran over grazing fees. As a result, its budget and staff were reduced to the point that it could barely operate. Creation of the BLM was the result of the intense rivalry between the Departments of the Interior and Agriculture during Franklin D. Roosevelt’s administration, the power of local grazing advisory boards in rangeland policy, the continuing controversy over grazing fees, and the influence of Senator McCarran. Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Environmental policy, U.S.;federal land [kw]Truman Creates the Bureau of Land Management (July 16, 1946) [kw]Bureau of Land Management, Truman Creates the (July 16, 1946) [kw]Land Management, Truman Creates the Bureau of (July 16, 1946) [kw]Management, Truman Creates the Bureau of Land (July 16, 1946) Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Environmental policy, U.S.;federal land [g]North America;July 16, 1946: Truman Creates the Bureau of Land Management[01780] [g]United States;July 16, 1946: Truman Creates the Bureau of Land Management[01780] [c]Government and politics;July 16, 1946: Truman Creates the Bureau of Land Management[01780] [c]Organizations and institutions;July 16, 1946: Truman Creates the Bureau of Land Management[01780] [c]Natural resources;July 16, 1946: Truman Creates the Bureau of Land Management[01780] Truman, Harry S. [p]Truman, Harry S.;environmental policy Johnson, Frederick William McCarran, Patrick Anthony Ickes, Harold Clawson, Marion

The rivalry between the Departments of the Interior Department of the Interior, U.S. and Agriculture Department of Agriculture, U.S. was intense during the 1930’s and 1940’s. An expanding National Park Service (which was housed in the Interior Department) was adding to its land base largely by acquiring lands that were once national forests under the administration of the U.S. Forest Service (an agency within the Department of Agriculture). In 1937, a review commissioned by Roosevelt recommended reorganizing the Department of the Interior as a department of conservation that would include the U.S. Forest Service. Interior Secretary Harold Ickes actively sought to expand his department by reacquiring jurisdiction over the national forests, which it had lost in 1905 as a result of the perception that the department’s administrators were inefficient and corrupt.

For their part, the U.S. Forest Service Forest Service, U.S. and the Department of Agriculture had long sought administrative responsibility for the grazing districts established under the Taylor Grazing Act Taylor Grazing Act (1934) (1934). Both agencies had cultivated the political support of the cattle industry and its congressional allies as it became apparent that the Taylor Act would pass.

Ickes’s attempt to reacquire the Forest Service brought Gifford Pinchot Pinchot, Gifford , a conservation icon and first chief of the Forest Service, into the fray as a vocal opponent, and a noisy controversy followed. The Forest Service sought administration of the grazing districts when the Taylor Act was amended in 1936 but was rebuffed by Congress. The result was a draw. The Forest Service stayed in the Department of Agriculture, no conservation department was created, and the grazing districts stayed under the jurisdiction of the Department of the Interior. However, the infighting occupied the interests of conservationists who paid relatively little heed to the events occurring in local grazing districts.

The Taylor Act had authorized the secretary of the interior to cooperate with cattle industry associations in implementing the law. Farrington Carpenter Carpenter, Farrington , the first director of grazing, established a system of grazing advisory boards through administrative action. In fact, establishing grazing permits and regulations would have been impossible without the cattle industry’s assistance. In 1939, Senator McCarran introduced amendments to the act that legally established boards composed of five to twelve stockmen and one wildlife representative. Many members of the advisory boards were prominent stockmen, including several leaders of national livestock organizations. Creation of interconnected state and national boards soon followed. The boards grew in power, eventually coming to control local decision making and to heavily influence Grazing Service policy.

In his attempt to woo the stockmen away from the U.S. Forest Service, Ickes had originally asserted that the Department of the Interior could administer the Taylor program for $150,000 per year and that grazing fees would reflect the costs of program administration. Necessary administrative expenses increased rapidly, and it became apparent that Ickes’s estimate was severely low.

Grazing fees for use of federal lands had originated on the national forests in 1906 and would continue to be the subject of much controversy. Shortly after passage of the Taylor Act, Nevada stockmen challenged the right of the secretary of the interior to charge grazing fees. A state court upheld their claim, but the decision was reversed in 1941 by the Supreme Court. In 1941, the Grazing Service proposed tripling the fee from five cents per animal unit month (aum), the amount of forage required to feed a one-thousand-pound animal or its equivalent for one month, to fifteen to eighteen cents per aum. The average Forest Service fee at the time was thirty-one cents per aum.

Partly because of strong opposition to the fee in Nevada, McCarran called for an investigation of the Grazing Service in 1940. McCarran was concerned about several issues, including withdrawal of large areas from grazing districts for military reservations, the apparent end of the policy of turning the public domain over to private parties for development, the growth of the administrative costs of the Grazing Service, and the assurance that the federal agency was responsive to local interests. Among other things, McCarran was successful in extracting a promise from the service that there would be no grazing fee increase until his investigation was complete. McCarran’s investigation of the Grazing Service continued until 1947 and resulted in greatly increased power of the stockmen over public rangelands.

In 1944 and 1945, the House Appropriations Committee had requested higher grazing fees from the Grazing Service. The director proposed implementing the 15 to 18 cent fee first suggested in 1941. McCarran blocked the proposal. In the spring of 1946, he gathered support from fellow senators to cut the service’s 1947 appropriation for salaries and expenses from $980,000 to $550,000. House members were angry that no fee increase had been implemented as requested and agreed to the Senate recommendations. The cut reduced the number of service employees from 250 to 86. The stalemate continued after the BLM was organized, and 1948 appropriations were even smaller.

As the Grazing Service’s relations with Congress deteriorated, Ickes recommended merging it with the General Land Office in January, 1946. In May, President Truman forwarded the recommendation to Congress. The House of Representatives opposed the plan, and the Senate, led by McCarran, concurred. The opposition of both houses was required to block the merger. As a result, the Bureau of Land Management came into existence on July 16, 1946.


Although creation of the BLM marked the beginning of a new period in the management of the public domain, there was still significant congressional opposition to active federal management of grazing districts. The BLM was not formed by legislative mandate, and many observers believed that its creation illustrated how the conservation of natural resources could be influenced by interest groups that sought to “capture” the agencies responsible for their regulation.

Frederick William Johnson, commissioner of the General Land Office, was named as the bureau’s first director. Johnson proposed to decentralize the cumbersome bureaucracy of the new agency through a set of national, regional, and district offices. The seven proposed regional offices each had jurisdiction over more than one state, making the administrators less subject to local interests and congressional influence. Congress, still angered at the Grazing Service, forbade transfer of functions to regional offices in the 1947 Interior Appropriations Act.

Marion Clawson succeeded Johnson in 1948 and achieved the congressional approval of the regional administrators the same year. Clawson brought the concept of multiple-use management to the bureau and increased the rate of land classification and disposal authorized by the Taylor Act. Grazing fees were increased to 12 cents per aum in 1951, and additional employees were hired to supervise fence-building and water development necessary for better grazing management. Clawson also extended more active management to the bureau’s extensive forest lands in western Oregon and began management of minerals on public lands. With the inauguration of President Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1953, Clawson was perceived as unfriendly to development interests, and he was fired by incoming Secretary of the Interior Douglas McKay.

The last decade of the Grazing Service and the first decade of the BLM illustrate how the agency had been “captured” by the livestock industry. The advisory board system had allowed livestock interests to formulate policy, make rules to implement those policies, and oversee their enforcement. McCarran’s investigation of the Grazing Service, and related hearings in the House of Representatives led by Representative Frank Barrett Barrett, Frank of Wyoming, fueled the first “sagebrush rebellion.” Such congressional action emboldened Western states’-rights advocates and greatly increased the power of stockmen in implementing the Taylor Grazing Act. Sensing their increased political power, the stockmen also pushed for transfer of Forest Service rangelands to the grazing districts and the sale of the federal lands in the districts to the grazing permittees. The last proposal finally raised the ire of conservationists, particularly Bernard De Voto, who devoted several of his “Easy Chair” columns in Harper’s Magazine to the subject.

Capture of the Grazing Service and the newly formed BLM was possible, because few other organized interest groups were active in rangeland conservation. Wildlife interests had been unenthusiastic about the Taylor Act. Jay N. Darling, a leader of the wildlife interests in the 1930’s, had asked rhetorically, “Where were the 11,000,000 sportsmen and 36,000 groups (of conservationists) when 3,000 cattle and sheepmen captured the public domain?” As the number of deer, elk, antelope, and predators on the public lands began to increase in the 1930’s and 1940’s, it became more apparent that livestock and wildlife would compete for the forage resource. By the time of the McCarran and Barrett hearings, it became apparent that postwar interests in recreation and wildlife would prevent the sale of grazing district lands to the livestock industry.

At the time of the Taylor Act and the creation of the Bureau of Land Management, many conservationists were involved in the Interior-Agriculture feud and the protection of national parks and monuments. In many respects, rangelands did not have the aesthetic appeal and popular support available for forests and mountains. The fact that few people outside the livestock industry cared for the rangelands made co-optation of the bureau relatively easy, for no resource-management agency can fare well in the legislative and executive branches without popular political support. Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Environmental policy, U.S.;federal land

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Clawson, Marion. “Reminiscences of the Bureau of Land Management, 1947-1948.” In The Public Lands, edited by Vernon Carstensen. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1963. Focusing on the administration of the new agency, Clawson reviews the inefficiency of the GLO and Grazing Service operations.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Foss, Phillip O. Politics and Grass. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1960. A detailed analysis of the influence of grazing advisory boards and the capture of the Grazing Service and BLM by the livestock industry.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Muhn, James, and Hanson R. Stuart. Opportunity and Challenge: The Story of the BLM. Washington, D.C.: Bureau of Land Management, 1988. A detailed, uncritical chronology of the BLM and its predecessor organizations.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Peffer, E. Louise. The Closing of the Public Domain. Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 1951. The principal and authoritative history of the public domain in the first half of the twentieth century.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">U.S. Department of the Interior. Bureau of Land Management. Public Land Statistics, 1992. Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1993. A basic statistical document on the BLM’s accomplishments and programs.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">U.S. Department of the Interior. Bureau of Land Management. Rangeland Reform ’94. Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1993. The secretary’s proposals for reform of the BLM’s rangeland programs.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Vincent, Carol Hardy. “Bureau of Land Management.” In Federal Land Management Agencies, edited by Pamela D. Baldwin. New York: Novinka Books, 2005. Profile of the bureau, placing it in the context of other U.S. land management agencies. Bibliographic references and index.

Nature Conservancy Is Founded

Brower Becomes Executive Director of the Sierra Club

Congress Passes the Multiple Use-Sustained Yield Act

Lady Bird Johnson Begins the America Beautiful Program

Wilderness Act Is Passed

Congress Establishes the Public Land Law Review Commission

Environmental Defense Fund Is Founded

Wild and Scenic Rivers and Trails System Acts Are Passed

National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 Is Signed

Natural Resources Defense Council Is Founded

Environmental Protection Agency Is Created

Congress Approves the Mining and Minerals Act

Categories: History