Federal Land Habitat Management


Properly managed wildlife habitat is essential for supporting sustainable and healthy wildlife populations. Well-managed lands containvarious successional stages that provide a diversity of habitats capable of supporting a diversity of wildlife. On federal lands, however, young forests and other early seral habitats are often underrepresented. The most efficient method to improve wildlife habitat is through active forest management which includes commercial harvesting, thinning, maintenance of grass/forb openings and prescribed burning.


Properly managing wildlife habitat is essential for supporting sustainable and healthy wildlife populations. Well-managed lands provide various successional stages that create diverse habitats capable of supporting a wide array of flora and fauna. Young forests and other early seral stages are often underrepresented, well below the natural range of variation on federal lands. The most efficient method to improve wildlife habitat is through active forest management which includes even-aged and uneven-aged commercial timber harvesting, thinning, timber stand improvement, prescribed burning, maintenance of grass/forb openings, and restoration plantings. With the federal government owning approximately 640 million acres of lands that are essential to sportsmen and women, it is imperative that the federal government manage land to support diverse wildlife habitat requirements and, thereby, healthy populations of wildlife.

Of this publicly-owned land, four federal agencies – the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), the U.S. Forest Service (USFS), the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), and the National Park Service (NPS) – manage approximately 610 million acres, or roughly 95% of all federal lands.  These federal agencies proceed systematically and procedurally when developing management plans and scoping documents. Active habitat management and input from sportsmen and women is particularly relevant to the USFS and BLM which have multiple-use management mandates. Public input organized through local and national outdoor sporting conservation groups, in conjunction with state wildlife agencies, can be effective in influencing the outcomes of federal land habitat management plans


The federal agencies developing land management plans are largely guided by federal laws passed by Congress, including the USFS Multiple Use-Sustained Yield Act of 1960, the National Forest Management Act of 1976, and the BLM Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976.  These laws codify the uses and extent of uses of the enumerated resources on federal lands while also requiring the agencies to consider general impacts to recreation during the planning process. Such uses include outdoor recreation, range for livestock, timber, watershed, and wildlife and fish purposes. Unfortunately, impacts on public hunting, angling, and recreational shooting opportunities are not specifically required to be considered in the plans, although the 2012 Planning Rule (USFS) requires habitat conditions for game species be considered during the development of forest plans.

Points of Interest

  • BLM manages 246 million acres of the federal estate and has a multiple-use, sustained-yield mandate intended to support a wide range of uses, including energy development, recreation, grazing, wild horses and burros, and conservation.
  • BLM lands provide opportunities for over 10 million hunters and anglers that produced almost $15 billion in expenditures in 2014 alone.
  • The USFS manages almost 193 million acres for multiple-use and sustained-yield activities, including timber management, recreation, grazing, watershed protection, and fish and wildlife habitats.
  • The USFWS manages 89 million acres of federal land that includes the National Wildlife Refuge System, for which hunting and angling are considered priority uses.
  • The National Park Service administers almost 85 million acres of federal land in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and U.S. territories. Roughly two-thirds of the system’s lands are in Alaska.

Moving Forward

Outdoor sporting conservation organizations, their members, and other stakeholders, with the help of legislators, should strive to monitor and use the links provided to engage federal agencies as they conduct planning activities that will impact habitat management on federal lands. The federal agencies have resources available on the web to track planning activities and assist those wishing to become engaged in the planning processes.

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