Over Half of the Western U.S. is Owned by the Feds

Federal Land Easements

In recent years, several western states have considered resolutions demanding that the federal government transfer much of this land to state ownership. These efforts are  motivated  by  concerns  over  federal  land  management,  including  restrictions  on  natural  resource  development,  poor  land stewardship, limitations on access, and low financial returns.

A recent study compares state and federal land management in the West. It examines the revenues and expenditures associated with  federal  land  management  and  compares  them  with  state  trust  land  management  in  four  western  states:  Montana,  Idaho, New Mexico, and Arizona. The information below explains why revenues and expenditures differ between state and federal land agencies and discusses several possible implications of transferring federal lands to the states.

There is a great divide in the United States. Land in  the  East  is  mostly  privately  owned,  while  nearly  half  of  the  land  in  the  West  is  owned by  the  federal  government.  In  recent  years, several western states have passed, introduced, or   considered   resolutions   demanding   that the  federal  government  transfer  much  of  this land  to  state  ownership.

Federal Land Map

These  efforts  are motivated  by  local  concerns  over  federal  land management, including restrictions on natural resource development, poor land stewardship, limitations on access, and low financial returns.  The  resolutions  reflect  a  sentiment  in  many western  states  that  state  control  will  result in  better  public  land  management.  To  date, however,    there    has    been    little    research comparing  the  costs  of  state  and  federal  land management.  Most  existing  studies  assume that  the  costs  of  federal  land  management would  be  the  same  under  state  management and do not consider the different management goals,  regulatory  requirements,  and  incentive structures that govern state and federal lands.


1.    The  federal  government  loses  money  managing  valuable  natural  resources  on  federal  lands,  while  states  generate significant financial returns from state trust lands.

2.    The states examined in this study earn an average of $14.51 for every dollar spent on state trust land management. The U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management generate only 73 cents in return for every dollar spent on federal land management.

3.    On average, states generate more revenue per dollar spent than the federal government on a variety of land management activities, including timber, grazing, minerals, and recreation.

4.    These outcomes are the result of the different statutory, regulatory, and administrative frameworks that govern state and federal lands. States have a fiduciary responsibility to generate revenues from state trust lands, while federal land agencies face overlapping and conflicting regulations and often lack a clear mandate.

5.    If federal lands were transferred, states could likely earn much greater revenues than the federal government. However, transfer proponents must consider how land management would have to change in order to generate those revenues under state control.



Cost of Land Management

Cost of Timber Management

Minerals Management

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Don McDowell, Arizona native, is an avid outdoorsman and has been an active bass pro fisherman for over 16 years and in the past 15 years has developed his own radio show promoting bass fishing and conservation efforts for bass fishing that escalated to nominations with several bass groups and organizations. In the past 12 years, Don has pursued his conservation agenda through AZBFN-TBF as Conservation Director and with the Arizona Game and Fish Department, in the spring of 2014 redesigned his website to include those efforts highlighted below and has increased the AZGFD exposure, public education of the AZGFD and Commission issues on his radio show and website soliciting local and national support for Arizona. 2014 has seen the founding of SRT Outdoors, Inc., 501 C3 organization, “Not for Profit, for Conservation” which is concentrating on grants for mitigating the effects of Gizzard Shad on Roosevelt lake thorough habitat enhancement, Florida Strain Bass stocking, lakes bottom mapping, etc. and feral hog research.

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