The federal government owns more than 27% of the land in the United States. Some land is set aside as wildlife refuges. Some has been reserved for national parks. The U.S. Department of Defense is also a large landowner. In several states, the percentage of land ownership is well above the national average, and in one state it is just shy of 80%.
Government land ownership recently tracked in a Congressional Research Service report titled “Federal Land Ownership: Overview and Data.” It explained that a few federal government agencies control almost all this land: the Bureau of Land Management, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the National Park Service in the Department of the Interior, and the Forest Service in the Department of Agriculture.
The government owns 79.6% of Nevada’s 70,264,320 acres. The Bureau of Land Management controls almost all this federal land (46,977,225 acres). The bureau’s role is to preserve land for grazing, but it also puts aside modest amounts for recreation and conservation. It was set up in 1946 as part of the Interior Department.
The federal government controls more than 50% of the land in four other states: Utah (63.1%), Idaho (61.6%), Alaska (61.3%) and Oregon (53.0%). Among these, the Bureau of Land Management is the largest holder. Many of the 50 best American cities to live in are in those states.
Among the states with the smallest portion of their land owned by the federal government are Connecticut (0.3%), Iowa (0.3%), Kansas (0.5%), New York (0.6%) and Rhode Island (0.7%). These states have either large urban populations or land owned by farmers. The total value of land in each of the states varies by thousands of dollars per acre, from as low as $1,558 to as high as $196,410.
Some of the land owned by the U.S. government may be moved to private interests soon. The Trump administration has decided to turn over part of the Tongass National Forest in Alaska to logging. Many experts expect this trend of privatizing federal land to continue.
For now at least, the federal land ownership is so vast that it is unlikely to change much compared to the total amount of land in the United States. It is open to debate how long that may continue.
Total Federal Land Administered by Five Agencies, by State, 2015
|State||Total Federal Acreage||Area of State|
|District of Columbia||9,683||24.8%|
Source: Congressional Research Service. Data from Bureau of Land Management, Forest Service, Fish and Wildlife Service, National Park Service and Department of Defense.
Notes: Figures understate federal lands in each state and the total in the United States as they exclude federal lands managed by agencies other than those mentioned above. Federal land figures do not add to the precise total shown due to small discrepancies in the sources used and due to rounding.