(STACKER) – The federal government owns 27.1% of all land in the United States, or 615.3 million of 2.27 billion acres. Federal lands are managed primarily for preservation, recreation, and natural resource development.
The Bureau of Land Management, a government division that manages public lands, controls 39.7% of land owned by the federal government. The Forest Service, in charge of state forests and grasslands, is responsible for 31.4% of state land. The Fish and Wildlife Service, which manages 14.5% of public lands, is responsible for restoration and protection efforts related to endangered species, wildlife refuges, fishing and migratory birds. The National Park Service manages 13% of federal lands and finally, the Department of Defense takes care of 1.4% of government properties.
The United States grew in its early years by acquiring or purchasing land, then transferring it to state governments or individuals through homesteads or land grants and encouraging settlers to move west. But in the 20th century, the government shifted gears and began to focus its efforts on conserving the lands it owned. Today, a handful of US agencies have land disposal and acquisition authorities, but federal government ownership of US lands has largely declined. From 1990 to 2018, federal land ownership decreased by 31.5 million acres.
Stacker compiled a list of states with the most federally owned land using data from the Congressional Research Service. States are ranked by percentage of land held by the federal government in 2018. Data was released February 21, 2020.
Read on to find out who owns exactly what in your state, or check out the national story here.
Alabama in numbers
– Land owned by the federal government: 2.7% (880,188 out of 32.7 million acres)
– Land owned by the agency: FS (76.2%), DOD (17.7%), FWS (3.7%), NPS (2%), BLM (0.3%)
– Percentage change since 1990: -6.8%
Alabama is home to a number of national monuments, parks, reservations, and other landmarks. In 2013, there were 138 active oil and gas drilling leases covering approximately 75,390 acres in Alabama.
Much of the land owned by the federal government is concentrated in the western part of the country. In fact, the US government owns almost half of all land in the West. This is partly because much of the territory in the western United States is either mountainous or dry and infertile, and was not easily seized by settlers.
Even today, there is a prevailing argument that the federal government should cede its land ownership to the states, and Congress has even considered passing legislation to do just that. But if states were to take control of federally-held land, it would likely impose high administrative costs on the states. In addition to this, the federal government gives money to the states in exchange for ownership of the land to offset taxes the state might have collected if the land was privately owned.
Keep reading below to see which states have the most and least federally owned land.
States with the most land held by the federal government
#1. Nevada: 80.1% of the land belongs to the federal government
#2. Utah: 63.1% of the land
#3. Idaho: 61.9% of the land
States with the least federally owned land
#1. Connecticut: 0.3% of land owned by the federal government
#2. Iowa: 0.3% of land
#3. Kansas: 0.5% of land
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