NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Federally Managed Lands in the West: The Economic and Environmental Implications for the State

September 11, 2015

The federal government controls, on average, about 50 percent of the land mass of 12 western states -- Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, Washington and Wyoming. While the Federal Land Policy and Management Act (1976) requires public land to remain under federal ownership, unless there is a "disposal in the national interest" transferring land to state control is a reasonable and economically feasible policy. 

  • States have greater flexibility to increase lease pricing to respond to fluctuating market forces
  • Land trusts on the state level have a better record of maintaining and developing land resources.
  • State land trusts can lease public lands for alternative uses, including to conservation groups for restoration.

It is significant to note that while the federal government controls a large majority of land in western states, it only controls a small percentage of public land in eastern states. On average the federal government controls only four percent of public land in the states east of Colorado. By refusing to relinquish land rights to western states, the federal government is denying western states the same sovereignty over public lands granted to eastern states.

Land is one of the most valuable assets and yet the federal government is mismanaging public lands at great cost to taxpayers. Allowing states to control public land within their borders, particularly western states, would increase revenues from the land and decrease redundant regulations and land subsidy programs.

Source: "Federally Managed Lands in the West: The Economic and Environmental Implications for the State," American Legislative Exchange Council, September 2015.

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