published Monday, April 9th, 2012

U.S. owns how much land?

There are many valid reasons for the federal government to own land. Obviously, federal roads are on government land, as are, say, various war monuments, military bases, national parks and such.

Few people would object to Washington having control of a certain amount of our national territory for purposes such as those.

But government ownership of land comes with a price: Taking land out of productive private use curtails economic activity and reduces tax revenue to fund the functions of government.

Moreover, many Americans probably are unaware of the vast extent of federal control of land in the United States -- especially in the West.

While our national government owns less than 15 percent of land in the states that stretch eastward from Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska and the Dakotas to the Atlantic Ocean, it owns up to 50 percent of the land in a number of western states.

And if you can believe it, Washington owns more than 50 percent of the land in five Western states. Here is the breakdown. The federal government owns:

• 52.5 percent of Oregon

• 62.4 percent of Alaska

• 62.5 percent of Idaho

• 64.5 percent of Utah

• And a stunning 82.9 percent of Nevada!

Does the federal government really need to be in possession of an overwhelming majority of the acreage in those states?

Many lawmakers in the West apparently don't think so. They want the federal government to turn control of a lot of federal land over to state and local officials, so they can find ways to use the land more productively than Washington has.

Among other things, they cite the massive wildfires that have resulted from federal unwillingness to allow the thinning out of overgrown forests.

Utah's Senate recently passed a bill calling on Washington to hand over control of roughly 30 million acres. That comes to almost 50 percent of Utah's total area. A similar effort is under way in Arizona.

It's hard to say whether the federal government will pay any heed to the states' attempt to get back some of their land. But we can sympathize with the effort.

We surely wouldn't like it if more than half of Tennessee were under federal control.

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EaTn said...

Land owned by our government is land owned by the people for our beauty and recreation enjoyment and in trust to our children and grandchildren. Selling such land to political cronies or foreign investors is about as short-sighted greed as it gets.

April 9, 2012 at 6:32 a.m.
gjuster said...

EaTn - The land should be owned by the states - not the federal government.

April 9, 2012 at 7:18 a.m.
EaTn said...

gjuster...why do states want to upkeep the public land since most of their budgets are already strapped? Could it be that some local politicians would like to sell the land dirt cheap to their political cronies for stripping timber and more eyesore development? We have enough vacant houses and business property in this country for future development for a half century if it were properly put to use.

April 9, 2012 at 7:37 a.m.


April 9, 2012 at 11:02 a.m.
gjuster said...

EaTn - you say the state's budgets are strapped - for the federal government strapped would be an big upgrade - the US Government is broke - $16,000,000,000,000 in debt - only staying alive by printing money. I believe that the closer that ownership is to local rather than national is best.

April 9, 2012 at 1:54 p.m.
EaTn said...

gjuster...yep, the federal govt can print money to maintain our federal lands, but the states can't. If it sinks us then having the land in states' hands won't keep the ship afloat. Do you really think turning over the Great Smokies to our local states would be a good idea for our grandkids? At least one of these is currently debating blowing-off mountain tops to grab the mineral resources to make a few rich.

April 9, 2012 at 3:06 p.m.

gjuster: The ownership won't become local. This won't be homesteading. It'd be sold to out-of-state corporations with no local interests or concerns. The residents of those states have votes in the federal government. They can influence the usage of the land. They won't if the land is sold off to who knows where. And you can bet the law wouldn't provide for local homesteading like you seem to want. At least, I'm giving you credit for that. But it won't happen. The law will be written to give preference to the lobbyists, not the citizens.

Not to mention this editorial doesn't mention how the land is held by the federal government. Much of it is leased back as forest-land, or grazing pastures, or for mineral rights. Other large parts (especially in Nevada) are military land, used for well, that is obviously not a public discussion. Yet this editorial would have you believe it's not being used. Or that the federal government is the reason controlled burns don't happen. It's actually the local population that resists the idea of conducting such a burn.

And there's other places, like Eastern Oregon where nobody wants that land. It's isolated, dry, and empty for a reason. That's not going to change.

Then there's how wrong you are about how the US gov't is doing. It's not broke. It's just collecting less than it spends, this is not due to the country being impoverished, it's a willful choice caused by giving into partisan interests.

Oh well, I wonder if the person who wrote this article realizes it's adopting a platform of Karl Marx.

April 9, 2012 at 4:12 p.m.
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