U.S. owns how much land?

U.S. owns how much land?

April 9th, 2012 in Opinion Free Press

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.