One of the Biggest Fat Cats in America is the BLM

Amid the circus that is the Bundy Ranch standoff is the much more important and revealing story surrounding a previously little-noticed agency called the Bureau of Land Management.

Even observers who believed that Cliven Bundy did not have a legal leg to stand on regarding his claims that he did not owe grazing fees for his cattle to the BLM were curious as to the reason behind the heavy-handed response to Bundy’s recalcitrance.  The move ostensibly was to remove Bundy’s cattle from public lands, where they were illegally grazing.  Even though every federal agency these days, from the Environmental Protection Agency to the Department of Education, feels the need to have its own SWAT team, 200 federal agents with assault rifles and dogs seems an inappropriate way to conduct a roundup.

Upon closer examination, the reason for the importance to the BLM of establishing its authority may entail much more than the revenue from grazing fees.

For starters, the Department of the Interior’s semi-annual report to Congress in 2013 noted that the federal government has effectively controlled the market for helium for almost a century.  The BLM provides about 40 percent of the nation’s helium and 30 percent of the world market.  The BLM’s current helium inventory is valued at around 1 billion dollars.  Needless to say, as a controller of 30 percent of the world supply, the BLM is a market-maker.

Then there is the revenue from mineral sales.  The Department of the Interior inspector general report from March 2014 reports that the BLM is operating a 17-million-dollar-a-year business in minerals.  The report also points out that BLM mismanagement cost the government some $846,000 due to overlooked contract adjustments.

The real prize, however, is coal. The BLM controls some 40 percent of the national coal supply and collects more than 1 billion dollars a year in bonus and royalty revenues.  In 2012 alone, they collected a record 2.4 billion dollars.  There is great incentive for the federal government to put as many private coal producers as possible out of business.  It also shows why cattle ranchers are being inexorably driven off their lands by governmental policies.  The federal government has a much more lucrative plan for those lands that does not involve private property owners.

None of this is a secret, and the yearly revenues are openly posted on the internet.  Yet, despite the income pouring into the BLM, President Obama is requesting a 1.1-billion-dollar appropriation for 2015 for an agency whose revenues are five times its operating costs.

Rather than focusing on the inane racial comments or questionable legal arguments of an elderly and unsophisticated rancher, the media would be doing the public a better service by asking why the federal government is in the natural resource business instead of public land maintenance, as the name of the Bureau of Land Management implies.

Victor Keith writes from Burbank, California and can be contacted at

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