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Access Across and Trespass on Federal Lands

Steven P. Quarles, Thomas R. Lundquist, Public Land Law (1992)

The law of access across federal lands could be summarized as follows:

A person owning land ordinarily will be granted reasonable access across BLM or Forest Service lands to that land: (1) after his application to the agency; (2) following environmental and other reviews; (3) subject to restrictions on the time, place, and manner of access, to protect resource values on federal lands; and (4) often subject to requirements to pay the fair rental value for the right-of-way and other costs.


This paper expands on these observations. It does so by explaining the most commonly encountered access laws, regulations, and principles.

Section I addresses rights-of-way under Title V of the Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976 (“FLPMA,” 43 U.S.C. §§ 1761-71), and the implementing BLM regulations (43 C.F.R. Part 2800) and Forest Service regulations (36 C.F.R. Part 251). The comprehensive FLPMA right-of-way procedures ordinarily apply in securing access across BLM or Forest Service lands. Section II explains the exceptions, where an access grant either is not required or is obtained under authorities other than FLPMA Title V.

While FLPMA Title V provides procedures for processing right-of-way requests, it does not guarantee a substantive right of access. Some other statutes and doctrines do, however. Section III summarizes the l