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BLM and EPA Rules: What to Know When Buying Land

blm and epa rules: what to know when buying land

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Published date:

January 08, 2016

Last updated date:

May 01, 2024

By Manny Manriquez

You undoubtedly have heard about recent standoffs between angry landowners in Oregon and Nevada with U.S. Government agencies like the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). While these highly-publicized confrontations typically occur in western states and are painted in the media as fights between right-wing property owners, militia groups and what they allege to be an “oppressive” U.S. government, the fact remains that both current and potential landowners in any state and of any circumstance can easily run afoul of the laws established to guard public lands and the environment. Indeed, the rules can be extensive and come into play whether you're searching for hunting land to buy in Wyoming, ranch land to buy in Texas, beachfront property for sale in Florida, vacation resorts for sale in Michigan, or commercial property development land in California.

As the new owner, you may be responsible for soil contamination, water pollution, lead contamination, air quality issues, and any of a multitude of things affecting watersheds, nature preserves, and countless other problems. Of course, you'll need to be especially diligent if your land is adjacent to – or in the vicinity of – any federal or state-controlled property. As an example of this, the recent tussle in Oregon stemmed from a fire set by landowners (on their own property) to clear ground and regenerate the soil.

That blaze spread onto adjacent federal land, where the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) charged the property owners (a father and son) with arson and alleged that they actually set the fire to cover the duo's poaching of deer on that same federal land. Regardless of the truth or politics involved, the moral of the story is that it's quite simple for landowners to find themselves in trouble with the law and facing fines and/or jail or prison time.

Landowner Liability Protections

The story above is an extreme example, but prospective property owners do need to consider all possibilities when conducting their due diligence on the purchase of land. It's wise to trace ownership back as far as possible and learn how the land was previously utilized. That bed and breakfast with 20 acres you're contemplating buying in southern Ohio may seem peaceful and benign, but is it actually sitting on land that used to be owned by a coal-mining company that used the property as a waste-dumping ground in the 1930s.

Of course, purchasing contaminated property or that with other environmental issues does not necessarily mean that you – the new landowner – are automatically responsible for the problems.

The EPA now recognizes landowner liability protections and has since 2002. But, of course, it's best to avoid the entire problem altogether. For information on EPA laws and regulations for landowners, businesses, and private citizens - including the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act - visit the EPA website here: Visit here for information on the laws, regulations, and policies of the U.S. Bureau of Land Management. Simply put, it's vital that you have a real estate attorney who's well-versed in environmental law conduct environmental due diligence before completing the purchase. In no way do we wish to scare you away from purchasing property. After all, our goal at is to help you “Sell Your Land, Land your Dream” and also “Buy Your Land, Land Your Dream.” But, like all things in life, it takes a bit of effort to ensure your dream unfolds perfectly.


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