The Public Lands and the Clash of Conflicting Interests
As with any other policy arena, public lands politics are marked by confusing crosscurrents of substantive controversies. Throughout the nineteenth century, the history of the growth of the United States consisted largely of the acquisition and disposition of the public domain lands of the frontier. Today, with the frontier settled, the federal government still owns one-third of the nation's land area, and two agencies, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the Forest Service, manage most of that land. The policies guiding Forest Service and BLM management of this huge amount of land have been affected by several divergent philosophies of natural resources management and buffeted by bitter arguments about numerous management issues.
Most of the substantive controversies of public lands politics have been related directly or indirectly to the so-called capture-conformity debate, which has affected evaluations of the public lands agencies for two decades. That debate consists of a variety of positions about whether public lands policies are, or should be, influenced more by interest group pressures or by professional judgment and statutory law. Some commentators argue that any group influence subjects an administrative agency to potential "capture" by its primary clientele, while others support certain forms of group influence, such as public participation. Most observers of public lands politics maintain that a degree of conformity to professional and