Special Report

How Much Land the Government Owns in Every State and What It's Used For

The U.S. government owns over 640 million acres of land across 50 states — equal to more than one-quarter of the country’s total landmass. Federal land can serve a wide variety of purposes, from development of natural resources to preservation, and much of it is open to the public for recreation and enjoyment.

Of course, the federal government does not have an equal footprint in each state. In some states, less than 1% of land is federally owned and managed, while in others, Uncle Sam owns well over half of all land. 24/7 Wall St. reviewed the Congressional Research Service’s March 2017 report “Federal Land Ownership: Overview and Data” to identify how much land the federal government owns in every state. Federal lands are largely concentrated in the West, with only about 4% of federal land east of the Mississippi River. Data on the federal government employment as a share of total employment by state are from the Current Employment Statistics program of the Bureau of Labor Statistics and are as of 2018.

Federal land is primarily controlled by five agencies: the Bureau of Land Management, the Forest Service, Fish and Wildlife Service, National Park Service, and the Department of Defense. Nationwide, the BLM controls by far the most land, at 248.3 million acres — nearly all of which are in western states and Alaska. 

While it is far from the largest federal land holder — controlling about 80 million acres — the National Park Service manages the lands many Americans are most likely to be familiar with. The NPS ensures the preservation of 61 national parks and hundreds of other natural and historic attractions in the United States for the enjoyment of the public. Due in large part to international tourist destinations like the Grand Canyon and Yellowstone, U.S. parks attract more than 330 million visitors annually. These are the most popular national parks by state

Having large swaths of land owned by the federal government is not necessarily indicative of a large federal presence overall, such as government offices and services. In fact, in three out of the five states where the U.S. government owns the largest share of total land, the share of workers employed by the federal government is less than the 1.9% national employment concentration. Here is a look at the states where the most people work for the government.

Click here to see how much land the federal government owns in every state and what it’s used for

To determine how much land the federal government owns in every state, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed figures from the Congressional Research Service’s March 2017 report “Federal Land Ownership: Overview and Data.” Land ownership estimates by federal agency and total federal land ownership are as of 2015, the most recent year available.


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