In most of the Northeast and South, where the only federal presence is the occasional military base or national park, complaints that the government owns too much land seem laughable.Whatever the complaints are about federally-owned land, the ranchers, loggers and miners in the West get a hell of a deal using federal lands.
But out west, the government lays claim to huge, state-sized swaths of land—more than 630 million acres, greater than the landmass of Texas, California, Florida and New York combined. In some states, government agencies are the biggest landowner; in Nevada, 80 percent of land is federally owned.
Data from the U.S. Geological Survey, which publishes a shapefile of federal land, makes it possible to map these areas, albeit imperfectly. Some private property may be tucked inside the boundaries of otherwise public land, USGS says.
For years, ranchers have bemoaned the government’s hold on western land, which it leases out for grazing through the Bureau of Land Management. Two years ago, when Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy made headlines after leading an armed response to a cattle round-up by federal agents, his unpaid grazing fees to BLM were at issue. (His son, Ammon Bundy, is now among the Oregon occupiers.)
This struggle isn’t new. But for most Americans, this fight doesn’t hit terribly close to home—literally.
Yes, the government owns nearly a third of America. But after mapping federal holdings to county populations, it becomes clear the majority of government land is remote and unpopulated, far from even most rural residents.
Tuesday, January 5, 2016
Owning the West