Special Report

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

The U.S. government owns more than 640 million acres of land across the 50 states — equal to more than one-quarter of the country’s total land area. Federal land can serve a wide variety of purposes, from military bases to development of natural resources and 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, over half of the land is. 24/7 Wall St. reviewed the Congressional Research Service’s February 2020 report “Federal Land Ownership: Overview and Data” to determine how much land the federal government owns in every state. Land ownership estimates by federal agency and total federal land ownership are as of 2018, the most recent year available. 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 2019.

It is important to note that the vast majority of federal land — over 96% — falls under the purview of one of only five agencies: the Bureau of Land Management, the Forest Service, the Fish and Wildlife Service, the National Park Service, and the Department of Defense. For the purposes of this story, only lands owned by these five agencies were considered. 

Of those five federal agencies, the Bureau of Land Management owns the most land, at 244.4 million acres, followed by the U.S. Forest Service, which manages 192.9 million acres. Federal lands are largely concentrated in the West, with only about 10% of federal land located east of the Mississippi River. 

While it is far from the largest federal landholder — 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 62 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 best national parks to visit in the fall

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 many of the states where the U.S. government owns the largest share of total land, a relatively small share of the overall workforce is employed by federal agencies.  Here is a look at the states where the most people work for the government.

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