The St. Anthony Sand Dunes appears as a rolling sea of sand on the eastern edge of Idaho’s volcanic Snake River Plain.

The St. Anthony Sand Dunes appears as a rolling sea of sand on the eastern edge of Idaho’s volcanic Snake River Plain. Bureau of Land Management

House Votes to Create Charity to Fill Funding Gaps at Bureau of Land Management

New foundation would foster public-private partnerships.

The House on Tuesday voted unanimously to create a new entity that allows members of the public to donate money or property to protect federal lands, taking the first step in following other Interior Department agencies with sister non-profits.

The Bureau of Land Management Foundation Act, introduced by Rep. Jody Hice, R-Ga., would create the new entity to accept, solicit and administer gifts or donations to advance the BLM mission. Specifically, the foundation would be able to choose to donate to the areas relating to wild free-roaming horses and burros, fish and wildlife and their habitats, National Conservation Lands, recreation resources and cultural and historic resources, as well as cleanup of abandoned mine lands, orphaned oil and gas well sites or public lands impacted by mineral development.

Rep. Alan Lowenthal, D-Calif., who cosponsored the measure, said the private donations would help offset years of Congress shortchanging the agency.

“Like many federal agencies, BLM has suffered from chronic underfunding for years,” Lowenthal said in a report on the measure. “Recent sequestration cuts have further hurt BLM's ability to carry out its extremely broad mission.”

A board of directors appointed by the Interior secretary would run the foundation. The entity would function as a charity and not a government agency. BLM has asked for the foundation in its budget requests, saying in its fiscal 2017 justification the charity would “help link individual Americans to their public land and provide a vehicle for innovative public-private partnerships on the wide range of BLM issues and programs.”

“This foundation is an opportunity to leverage private funding to support public lands, achieve shared outcomes, focus public support of the BLM mission, and improve messaging,” BLM said.

The National Park Service, Fish and Wildlife Service and Forest Service have similar government non-profit foundations that operate outside the federal budget. The Congressional Budget Office said the BLM Foundation would operate in a similar fashion, and would not require federal appropriations after it received its initial $7 million as called for in the bill to stand up the new entity. It would be able to accept volunteers “without regard to” normal civil service classification laws and rules.

Lowenthal added the measure would bring awareness to BLM and the lands it protects.

“The foundation created by this bill will be an important partner with the BLM,” he said, “supporting its mission while also raising the profile of the agency and calling more attention to the beauty and fragility of America's public lands.”