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Dispute Resolution and Congressional Oversight

William R. Murray, Public Land Law (1992)

When public land and resources are made available, conflict inevitably develops between competitors for the right to a particular resource as well as competitors for how the resources are to be used. This conflict is usually intense. The public land laws, as well as more recent natural resource and environmental laws, provide both resolutions of these conflicts as well as mechanisms for resolution of future disputes.

Public land law embodies the policies chosen by the federal government to make the vast natural resources of the North American continent available to the nation and its people. The laws accomplished much. Few other nations in the world can point to a land program that passed title to its citizens smoothly and efficiently, at least in retrospect, without the creation of either permanent chaos or a class structure. Whether the current debate over use of public land resources has a similar result remains to be seen.

The accomplishments, as well as the scandals, occurred through the crucible of dispute. Congress created the Department of the Interior in 1849 in part to remove the burden of public land appeals from the Secretary of Treasury.1 The Department began formally publishing its more important decisions in bound volumes beginning in July 1881.2 By 1887, it recognized the need to [12-2] provide a uniform system of indexing, headnotes, and tabl