The United States expanded in its early years by acquiring or purchasing land, eventually transferring it to state governments or individuals through homesteading or land grants and encouraging settlers to relocate to the west. But in the 20th century, the government switched gears and started focusing its efforts on retaining the land it owned. Today, a handful of U.S. agencies have land disposal and acquisition authorities, but the federal government’s ownership of U.S. land has largely been decreasing. From 1990 to 2018, federal land ownership shrunk by 31.5 million acres.
Stacker compiled a list of the states with the most land owned by the federal government using data from the Congressional Research Service. States are ranked by the percentage of land owned by the federal government as of 2018. Data was released Feb. 21, 2020.
Read on to find out who exactly owns what in your state, or check out the national story here.
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Washington by the numbers
– Land owned by federal government: 28.6% (12.2 million of 42.7 million acres)
– Land owned by agency: FS (76.6%), NPS (15%), BLM (3.6%), DOD (3.5%), FWS (1.3%)
– Percent change since 1990: +1.7%
Washington has 15 national parks and one national trail managed by the National Park Service. In 2013, these attractions brought in 7.3 million visitors, generating $430.8 million in visitor spending. Olympic National Forest, Colville National Forest, and Gifford Pinchot National Forest are all found in Washington.
Much of the land that the federal government owns is concentrated in the western part of the country. In fact, the U.S. government owns nearly half of all land in the West. This is partly due to the fact that a lot of the territory in the western United States is either mountainous or dry and infertile, and wasn’t readily snatched up by homesteaders.
Even today, there is a prevailing argument that the federal government should hand its land ownership over to the states, and Congress has even considered passing legislation to do just that. But if the states were to seize control of the federally held land, it would likely impose high administrative costs on the states. On top of that, the federal government gives states money in exchange for the ownership of the land to compensate for taxes that the state might have collected if the land were privately owned.
Which states have the most and least land owned by the federal government?
States with the most land owned by the federal government
#1. Nevada: 80.1% of land owned by the federal government
#2. Utah: 63.1% of land
#3. Idaho: 61.9% of land
States with the least land owned by the federal government
#1. Connecticut: 0.3% of land owned by the federal government
#2. Iowa: 0.3% of land
#3. Kansas: 0.5% of land
The above article first appeared on Stacker and was republished with permission. The Auburn Examiner has not independently verified its content.