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1633

Protection of Government Property—Natural Resources

Federally owned property provides the public with a host of natural resources, including timber, minerals, grazing lands and, in arid parts of this country, potable water. The wise management of these resources requires that the Federal government carefully regulate the extent of their use. One form of this regulation consists of criminal penalties for the exploitation or misuse of these resources.

Currently there are several statutes which protect the natural resources found on federal land. For example, 18 U.S.C. § 1851 prohibits the unauthorized mining or removal of coal from lands owned by or reserved for the United States. Timber found on federal land, in turn, is protected by 18 U.S.C. §§ 1852-56. These sections prohibit the unlawful cutting, injuring, removing or transporting of timber found on public lands. See 18 U.S.C. § 1852 (removing or transporting); § 1853 (cutting or injuring). Also prohibited is the processing of timber belonging to the United States for the purpose of making pitch or turpentine. See 18 U.S.C. § 1854. These sections further protect federal woodlands by prohibiting the willful starting of unauthorized fires, 18 U.S.C. § 1855, and by penalizing those who leave fires unattended or unextinguished, see 18 U.S.C. § 1856. It should be noted that section 1856, which deals with unattended fires, applies not only to fires on public lands but also to fires dangerously near public lands. See United States v. Alford, 274 U.S. 264 (1927). Finally 16 U.S.C. §§ 604 and 605 authorize the Secretary of the Interior to regulate the cutting of timber on public land. Violation of these regulations is a criminal offense, punishable by 6 months imprisonment and a $500 fine. See 16 U.S.C. § 606.

Federally owned livestock grazing lands are another natural resource which is protected both by regulation and by statute. Under 43 U.S.C. §  315a the Secretary of the Interior is authorized to "make provision for the protection, administration, regulation and improvement" of livestock grazing areas. Violations of these regulations are punishable by a $500 fine. In addition, 43 U.S.C. § 1061 prohibits unauthorized enclosure or occupancy of these public lands. See 43 U.S.C. § 1061. This provision is complemented by 43 U.S.C. § 1063, which forbids obstruction of lawful settlement or free transit through these lands. Violations of these sections are punishable by one year imprisonment, a $1,000 fine, or both. See 43 U.S.C. § 1064. Finally, 18 U.S.C. § 1857 proscribes the destruction of fences erected by the United States on grazing lands or the unauthorized entry of livestock onto these lands. Individuals who violate this section are subject to one year imprisonment, a $500 fine, or both.

In arid lands, the Secretary of the Interior is empowered to develop on federal property springs, streams and water holes. In order to make these water holes accessible to the public, the Secretary is also authorized to erect signs and monuments designating their locations, see 43 U.S.C. §  361. Willful or malicious injury to these signs or monuments and the willful or malicious fouling of water holes violate 43 U.S.C. § 362 and are punishable by one year imprisonment, a $1,000 fine, or both.

[cited in USAM 9-66.100]