As the Nation's principal conservation agency, the U.S. Department of the Interior has responsibility for most of our nationally owned public lands and natural resources. This includes fostering the wisest use of our land and water resources, protecting our fish and wildlife, and preserving the environmental and cultural values of our national parts and historic places.
The Interior Department also assesses our mineral resources and works to assure that their development is in the best interest of all the people.
Additionally, the Department has a major responsibility for American Indian reservation communities and for people who live in the Island Territories under United States administration.
After many years of discussing a "Home Department," Congress in 1849 decided that creation of a Department of the Interior had become necessary to administer the vastly expanded land holdings acquired by the Federal Government through the Louisiana Purchase of 1803, the Mexican war of 1846-48 and the 1846 treaty with Great Britain by wh ich the custodian of these lands, the new Interior Department was given functional responsibility for the Office of Indian Affairs, Pension Office, Patent Office, and several smaller agencies including the Census of the United States.
Over the many years since that time, other duties have been added and spun off, and the Department of the Interior's role has changed from that of a general housekeeper for the Federal Government to that of custodian of its natural resources.
The Department managers more than 440 million areas of federal lands, including some 360 national parks, about 500 wildlife refuges and vast areas of multiple use lands. Interior Department agencies include the National Park Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, National Biological Survey, Bureau of Land Management, Minerals Management Service, Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement, U.S. Geological Survey, Bureau of Reclamation, Bureau of Mines, Bureau of Indian Affairs and Office of Territorial and International Affairs.
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