Babbitt's domain: 1.9 billion acres


The domain of Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt encompasses a $7.25 billion budget, 75,000 employees, and more than 500 million acres of land onshore, and another 1.4 billion acres offshore.

Interior's holdings sprawl across the nation. It manages everything from the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island in New York to San Francisco's Golden Gate National Recreation Area. But its heart is in the West.

Interior is more an idea than a reality. It is composed of many diverse, often antagonistic agencies and bureaus, which are described below:

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is the lead federal agency in the conservation of the nation's migratory birds, endangered species, certain mammals and sport fishes. It operates 483 wildlife refuges covering more than 90 million acres as well as a system of fish hatcheries. It also enforces a series of wildlife laws, including the Endangered Species Act. Its director serves under the assistant secretary for fish, wildlife and parks and administers 6,500 employees and a $1 billion budget. The agency was formed in the 1880s to complete a survey of the nation's plants and animals. Critics nicknamed it the "Bureau of Extravagant Mammology." Major issues include:

  • Endangered species. The agency is responsible for recovery plans for the northern spotted owl, the grizzly bear, the wolf, and hosts of other species. The listing of new endangered and threatened species will accelerate in 1993.
  • National wildlife refuges. The Congress will consider a new organic act for the diverse and abused system. The act would specify whether refuges should be managed for hunting or biological diversity and what uses are compatible with refuges.

The Bureau of Land Management oversees 272 million "multiple use" acres of public lands located primarily in 11 Western states. The BLM also manages minerals underlying 572 million acres. The BLM also manages minerals underlying an additional 300 million acres of federal and Indian lands.

Its director serves under the assistant secretary of land and minerals management and oversees 9,650 employees and a $1.1 billion budget. In 1946, the Grazing Service merged with the General Land Office to create the BLM within the Department of Interior. Environmentalists nicknamed it the "Bureau of Livestock and Mining."

Major issues include:

  • Grazing reform. Environmentalists and fiscal conservatives want the grazing fee raised to market value. Critics also say livestock should be banned from some public land and managed better on other public land.
  • 1872 Mining Law reform. Current law allows miners and others to gain ownership of public land for as little as $2.50 an acre.

The National Park Service administers parks, monuments and historic sites for their recreational, historic and natural values. It oversees 357 units totaling more than 80 million acres, including 51 national parks and 79 national monuments. The agency also coordinates the Wild and Scenic Rivers System and the National Trail System.

Its director serves under the assistant secretary for fish, wildlife and parks and administers 14,287 permanent employees, 6,818 seasonal workers and a $1.3 billion budget. The agency began with the establishment of Yellowstone Park in 1872. The 1916 National Park Organic Act ordered the agency to manage park lands for both public enjoyment and preservation.

Major issues include:

  • Employee benefits and housing. Critics say these need to be upgraded to stem the loss of Park Service employees.
  • Resource degradation. The agency lacks solid information about its natural and cultural resources.
  • Outside threats. Park advocates want to give the agency influence over nearby logging, geothermal drilling and other developments that damage park resources.
  • Concessionaires. Critics say that the Park Service does not collect enough money from the restaurants, gift shops and hotels that operate within park boundaries.

Bureau of Reclamation projects irrigate more than 10 million acres of arid lands in the 17 Western states. Its commissioner serves under the assistant secretary for water and science and administers 7,500 employees with an $894 million budget, of which $564 million is allocated for construction.

The bureau was created by the Reclamation Act of 1902 to reclaim arid lands in the West. Today, that mission is done - critics say overdone.

Major issues include:

  • Salinity and selenium. Some of the bureau's irrigation projects have concentrated naturally occurring salts and selenium in the soil and water, threatening fish, wildlife and agriculture.
  • Animas-La Plata. The bureau's last huge water project, planned for southwestern Colorado, is in deep trouble after the EPA flunked its supplemental EIS last month and information was pried out of the bureau on the project's true costs.
  • Dam management. As a result of the listing of endangered species, the bureau is required to manage its dams in the Columbia, Colorado and Missouri basins to enhance river flows.
  • Survival. Some say this is it for the bureau: Adapt or die.

The Bureau of Indian Affairs is responsible for the major portion of the trust responsibility of the United States to Indian tribes. It serves 1 million Indians from 500 tribes on 278 reservations. Its leader, the assistant secretary for Indian affairs, oversees Interior's largest agency with 13,500 employees and a $1.5 billion budget. The BIA began in the War Department in 1824, and was transferred to Interior in 1949. Major issues include:

  • Gaming. This is a $2 billion industry; critics want the 1988 law regulating Indian gambling tightened.
  • Recognition of new tribes. Some 20 groups want tribal status from the BIA, with others waiting to apply.
  • Water rights and land claims. Many outstanding water and land claims are being negotiated; settlements often involve a federal payoff.
  • Reorganization. The BIA is periodically charged with massive fraud and corruption. Some want the agency reorganized to put more money under tribal control. A federal task force to examine reorganization received a two-year extension in December.

The Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement establishes environmental and reclamation standards for surface coal mining. It mostly oversees state programs that regulate coal mining. Its director serves under the assistant secretary for land and minerals and administers 1,000 employees and a $300 million budget.

The OSM was created by the 1977 Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act to regulate coal mining. It also collects a per-ton fee from coal producers to clean up abandoned mines. Major issues include:

  • Compliance with existing law. Environmentalists are suing OSM for allegedly failing to enforce the law. The Reagan administration weakened many regulations.
  • Compliance with 1992 energy bill. The new energy bill requires OSM to develop a full plate of new regulations, including rules providing incentives for the remining of abandoned coal mine sites.

The Bureau of Mines develops information and technology to help industry meet the nation's mineral and material needs. Its director serves under the assistant secretary for land and minerals management and administers 2,400 employees and a $173 million budget.

The agency was founded in 1910 following a series of highly publicized mine disasters to promote the health and safety of mine workers. In the 1970s, the worker health and safety program moved to the Department of Labor as the Mine Safety and Health Administration. In 1977, oversight of the coal industry went to the Office of Surface Mining, and management of energy minerals went to the Department of Energy.

Major issues include:

  • Mission. The agency says it works to develop environmentally sound technologies. Environmentalists say it is still a business-as-usual R&D program for the mining industry.

The Minerals Management Service oversees the federal Outer Continental Shelf oil and gas drilling program and collects and distributes mineral royalties from federal and Indian lands. Its director serves under the assistant secretary for land and minerals management and oversees 2,100 employees and a $205 million budget.

The MMS was created in 1982 by James Watt to administer the BLM's offshore leasing program and the U.S. Geological Survey's minerals royalties program.

Major issues include:

  • Offshore oil and gas leasing. Opponents stopped large-scale oil and gas leasing off the continental shelf during the Reagan and Bush administrations. Industry and the agency hope the Clinton administration's commitment to natural gas, which represents 73 percent of the offshore mineral take, will revive offshore drilling.

The U.S. Geological Surveyis a research agency that publishes maps and reports covering the nation's physical features and its mineral, fuel and water resources. It also evaluates hazards associated with earthquakes, volcanoes, floods, droughts, landslides, toxic materials and subsidence. Its director serves under the assistant secretary for water and science and administers 10,000 employees and an $800 million budget. USGS was established by Congress in 1879, and charged with the "classification of the public lands, and examination of the geological structure, mineral resources, and products of the public domain." In recent years, it has broadened its activities to include research on global climate change and water quality.

    Mission. The Clinton administration could further stretch the agency's role in doing basic environmental research.

    High Country News Classifieds