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Change Comes to the Public Lands: New Forces, Directions, and Policies

Robert B. Keiter, Proceedings of 46th Annual Rocky Mountain Mineral Law Institute (2000)

To say that change is occurring on the public lands is to perhaps state the obvious. Ever since the United States acquired the diverse real estate that today constitutes the federal public lands, change has been a constant theme in how the federal government administers these lands. Over the past century and a half, federal policy towards the public domain has evolved through distinctive phases, ranging from disposition to retention and active management. Driven by corresponding economic and social changes, these evolving policy regimes have inevitably reflected the felt necessities of the time, responding to an admixture of national and local interests. The fact is that conceptions of the public lands and their role in our nation's development have changed dramatically since the federal government first acquired this immense resource. Just as the pace of change has accelerated rapidly in our technology-based society, the pace of change on the public lands has likewise accelerated in response to demands from an increasingly diverse, urbanized, and vocal populace.

To put the notion of change in public land policy into a concrete context, consider the case of California's Sierra Nevada mountain range. A mere 150 years ago, gold was first discovered at Sutter's Mill in the Sierra foothills, setting off the '49er gold rush that helped fuel the nation's westward [3-3] expa