Federal Land Ownership: Overview and Data

The federal government owns roughly 640 million acres, about 28% of the 2.27 billion acres of land in the United States. Four major federal land management agencies administer 610.1 million acres of this land (as of September 30, 2015). They are the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), and National Park Service (NPS) in the Department of the Interior (DOI) and the Forest Service (FS) in the Department of Agriculture. In addition, the Department of Defense (excluding the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers) administers 11.4 million acres in the United States (as of September 30, 2014), consisting of military bases, training ranges, and more. Numerous other agencies administer the remaining federal acreage.

The lands administered by the four major agencies are managed for many purposes, primarily related to preservation, recreation, and development of natural resources. Yet the agencies have distinct responsibilities. The BLM manages 248.3 million acres of public land and administers about 700 million acres of federal subsurface mineral estate throughout the nation. The BLM has a multiple-use, sustained-yield mandate that supports a variety of activities and programs, as does the FS, which currently manages 192.9 million acres. Most FS lands are designated national forests. Wildfire protection is increasingly important for both agencies. The FWS manages 89.1 million acres of the U.S. total, primarily to conserve and protect animals and plants. The National Wildlife Refuge System includes wildlife refuges, waterfowl production areas, and wildlife coordination units. In 2015, the NPS managed 79.8 million acres in 408 diverse units to conserve lands and resources and make them available for public use. Activities that harvest or remove resources from NPS lands generally are prohibited.

The amount and percentage of federally owned land in each state varies widely, ranging from 0.3% of land (in Connecticut and Iowa) to 79.6% of land (in Nevada). However, federal land ownership generally is concentrated in the West. Specifically, 61.3% of Alaska is federally owned, as is 46.4% of the 11 coterminous western states. By contrast, the federal government owns 4.2% of lands in the other states. This western concentration has contributed to a higher degree of controversy over federal land ownership and use in that part of the country.

Throughout America’s history, federal land laws have reflected two visions: keeping some lands in federal ownership while disposing of others. From the earliest days, there has been conflict between these two visions. During the 19th century, many laws encouraged settlement of the West through federal land disposal. Mostly in the 20th century, emphasis shifted to retention of federal lands. Congress has provided varying land acquisition and disposal authorities to the agencies, ranging from restricted (NPS) to broad (BLM). As a result of acquisitions and disposals, from 1990 to 2015, total federal land ownership by the five agencies declined by 25.4 million acres (3.9%), from 646.9 million acres to 621.5 million acres. Much of the decline is attributable to BLM land disposals in Alaska and to reductions in DOD land. By contrast, land ownership by the NPS, FWS, and FS increased over the 25-year period. Further, although 15 states had decreases of federal land during this period, the other states had varying increases.

Numerous issues affecting federal land management are before Congress. These issues include the extent of federal ownership and whether to decrease, maintain, or increase the amount of federal holdings; the condition of currently owned federal infrastructure and lands and the priority of their maintenance versus new acquisitions; and the optimal balance between land use and protection, and whether federal lands should be managed primarily to benefit the nation as a whole or to benefit the localities and states. Another issue is border control on federal lands along the southwestern border, which presents challenges due to the length of the border, remoteness and topography of the lands, and differences in missions of managing agencies.

Federal Land Ownership: Overview and Data

March 3, 2017 (R42346)
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Contents

Summary

The federal government owns roughly 640 million acres, about 28% of the 2.27 billion acres of land in the United States. Four major federal land management agencies administer 610.1 million acres of this land (as of September 30, 2015). They are the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), and National Park Service (NPS) in the Department of the Interior (DOI) and the Forest Service (FS) in the Department of Agriculture. In addition, the Department of Defense (excluding the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers) administers 11.4 million acres in the United States (as of September 30, 2014), consisting of military bases, training ranges, and more. Numerous other agencies administer the remaining federal acreage.

The lands administered by the four major agencies are managed for many purposes, primarily related to preservation, recreation, and development of natural resources. Yet the agencies have distinct responsibilities. The BLM manages 248.3 million acres of public land and administers about 700 million acres of federal subsurface mineral estate throughout the nation. The BLM has a multiple-use, sustained-yield mandate that supports a variety of activities and programs, as does the FS, which currently manages 192.9 million acres. Most FS lands are designated national forests. Wildfire protection is increasingly important for both agencies. The FWS manages 89.1 million acres of the U.S. total, primarily to conserve and protect animals and plants. The National Wildlife Refuge System includes wildlife refuges, waterfowl production areas, and wildlife coordination units. In 2015, the NPS managed 79.8 million acres in 408 diverse units to conserve lands and resources and make them available for public use. Activities that harvest or remove resources from NPS lands generally are prohibited.

The amount and percentage of federally owned land in each state varies widely, ranging from 0.3% of land (in Connecticut and Iowa) to 79.6% of land (in Nevada). However, federal land ownership generally is concentrated in the West. Specifically, 61.3% of Alaska is federally owned, as is 46.4% of the 11 coterminous western states. By contrast, the federal government owns 4.2% of lands in the other states. This western concentration has contributed to a higher degree of controversy over federal land ownership and use in that part of the country.

Throughout America's history, federal land laws have reflected two visions: keeping some lands in federal ownership while disposing of others. From the earliest days, there has been conflict between these two visions. During the 19th century, many laws encouraged settlement of the West through federal land disposal. Mostly in the 20th century, emphasis shifted to retention of federal lands. Congress has provided varying land acquisition and disposal authorities to the agencies, ranging from restricted (NPS) to broad (BLM). As a result of acquisitions and disposals, from 1990 to 2015, total federal land ownership by the five agencies declined by 25.4 million acres (3.9%), from 646.9 million acres to 621.5 million acres. Much of the decline is attributable to BLM land disposals in Alaska and to reductions in DOD land. By contrast, land ownership by the NPS, FWS, and FS increased over the 25-year period. Further, although 15 states had decreases of federal land during this period, the other states had varying increases.

Numerous issues affecting federal land management are before Congress. These issues include the extent of federal ownership and whether to decrease, maintain, or increase the amount of federal holdings; the condition of currently owned federal infrastructure and lands and the priority of their maintenance versus new acquisitions; and the optimal balance between land use and protection, and whether federal lands should be managed primarily to benefit the nation as a whole or to benefit the localities and states. Another issue is border control on federal lands along the southwestern border, which presents challenges due to the length of the border, remoteness and topography of the lands, and differences in missions of managing agencies.


Federal Land Ownership: Overview and Data

Introduction

Today the federal government owns and manages roughly 640 million acres of land in the United States.1 Four major federal land management agencies manage 610.1 million acres of this land, or about 95% of all federal land in the United States. These agencies are as follows: Bureau of Land Management (BLM), 248.3 million acres; Forest Service (FS), 192.9 million acres; Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), 89.1 million acres; and National Park Service (NPS), 79.8 million acres. Most of these lands are in the West, including Alaska. In addition, the Department of Defense (DOD) administers 11.4 million acres in the United States,2 about 2% of all federal land.3 The remaining acreage, approximately 3% of all federal land, is managed by a variety of government agencies.

Ownership and use of federal lands have stirred controversy for decades.4 Conflicting public values concerning federal lands raise many questions and issues, including the extent to which the federal government should own land; whether to focus resources on maintenance of existing infrastructure and lands or acquisition of new areas; how to balance use and protection; and how to ensure the security of international borders along the federal lands of multiple agencies. Congress continues to examine these questions through legislative proposals, program oversight, and annual appropriations for the federal land management agencies.

Historical Background

Federal lands and resources have been important in American history, adding to the strength and stature of the federal government, serving as an attraction and opportunity for settlement and economic development, and providing a source of revenue for schools, transportation, national defense, and other national, state, and local needs.

The formation of the U.S. federal government was particularly influenced by the struggle for control over what were then known as the "western" lands—the lands between the Appalachian Mountains and the Mississippi River that were claimed by the original colonies. The original states reluctantly ceded the lands to the developing new government. This cession, together with granting constitutional powers to the new federal government, including the authority to regulate federal property and to create new states, played a crucial role in transforming the weak central government under the Articles of Confederation into a stronger, centralized federal government under the U.S. Constitution.

Subsequent federal land laws reflected two visions: reserving some federal lands (such as for national forests and national parks) and selling or otherwise disposing of other lands to raise money or to encourage transportation, development, and settlement. From the earliest days, these policy views took on East/West overtones, with easterners more likely to view the lands as national public property, and westerners more likely to view the lands as necessary for local use and development. Most agreed, however, on measures that promoted settlement of the lands to pay soldiers, to reduce the national debt, and to strengthen the nation. This settlement trend accelerated with federal acquisition of additional territory through the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, the Oregon Compromise with England in 1846, and cession of lands by treaty after the Mexican War in 1848.5

In the mid-to-late 1800s, Congress enacted numerous laws to encourage and accelerate the settlement of the West by disposing of federal lands. Examples include the Homestead Act of 1862 and the Desert Lands Entry Act of 1877. Approximately 1.29 billion acres of public domain land was transferred out of federal ownership between 1781 and 2015. The total included transfers of 816 million acres to private ownership (individuals, railroads, etc.), 328 million acres to states generally, and 143 million acres in Alaska under state and Native selection laws.6 Most transfers to private ownership (97%) occurred before 1940; homestead entries, for example, peaked in 1910 at 18.3 million acres but dropped below 200,000 acres annually after 1935, until being fully eliminated in 1986.7

Although several earlier laws had protected some lands and resources, such as salt deposits and certain timber for military use, new laws in the late 1800s reflected the growing concern that rapid development threatened some of the scenic treasures of the nation, as well as resources that would be needed for future use. A preservation and conservation movement evolved to ensure that certain lands and resources were left untouched or reserved for future use. For example, Yellowstone National Park was established in 1872 to preserve its resources in a natural condition, and to dedicate recreation opportunities for the public. It was the world's first national park,8 and like the other early parks, Yellowstone was protected by the U.S. Army—primarily from poachers of wildlife or timber. In 1891, concern over the effects of timber harvests on water supplies and downstream flooding led to the creation of forest reserves (renamed national forests in 1907).

Emphasis shifted during the 20th century from the disposal and conveyance of title to private citizens to the retention and management of the remaining federal lands. During debates on the Taylor Grazing Act of 1934,9 some western Members of Congress acknowledged the poor prospects for relinquishing federal lands to the states, but language included in the act left disposal as a possibility. It was not until the enactment of the Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976 (FLPMA)10 that Congress expressly declared that the remaining public domain lands generally would remain in federal ownership.11 This declaration of permanent federal land ownership was a significant factor in what became known as the Sagebrush Rebellion, an effort that started in the late 1970s to strengthen state or local control over federal land and management decisions. Currently, there is renewed interest in some western states in assuming ownership of some federal lands within their borders. This interest stems in part from concerns about the extent, condition, and cost of federal land ownership and the type and amount of land uses and revenue derived from federal lands.12 Judicial challenges and legislative and executive efforts generally have not resulted in broad changes to the level of federal ownership. Current authorities for acquiring and disposing of federal lands are unique to each agency.13

Current Federal Land Management

The creation of national parks and forest reserves laid the foundation for the current federal agencies whose primary purposes are managing natural resources on federal lands—the BLM, FS, FWS, and NPS. These four agencies were created at different times, and their missions and purposes differ. As noted, DOD is the fifth-largest land management agency, with lands consisting of military bases, training ranges, and more. These five agencies, which together manage about 97% of all federal land, are described below. Numerous other federal agencies—the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Bureau of Reclamation,14 Post Office, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, the Department of Energy, and many more—administer additional federal lands.

Agencies

Bureau of Land Management

The BLM was formed in 1946 by combining two existing agencies.15 One was the Grazing Service (first known as the DOI Grazing Division), established in 1934 to administer grazing on public rangelands. The other was the General Land Office, which had been created in 1812 to oversee disposal of the federal lands.16 The BLM currently administers more federal lands in the United States than any other agency—248.3 million acres. BLM lands are heavily concentrated (99.4%) in the 11 contiguous western states and Alaska.17

As defined in FLPMA,18 BLM management responsibilities are similar to those of the FS—sustained yields of the multiple uses, including recreation, grazing, timber, watershed, wildlife and fish habitat, and conservation. However, each agency historically has emphasized different uses. For instance, more rangelands are managed by the BLM, while most federal forests are managed by the FS. In addition, the BLM administers about 700 million acres of federal subsurface mineral estate throughout the nation.19

Forest Service

The Forest Service (FS) is the oldest of the four federal land management agencies. It was created in 1905, when responsibility for managing the forest reserves (renamed national forests in 1907) was joined with forestry research and assistance in a new agency within the Department of Agriculture (USDA). In 1891, Congress had authorized the President to establish forest reserves from the public domain lands administered by the Department of the Interior.20 Today, the FS administers 192.9 million acres of land in the United States,21 predominantly in the West, while also managing about three-fifths of all federal lands in the East (as shown in Table 5).

Forest reserves—later renamed national forests—were originally authorized to protect the lands, preserve water flows, and provide timber. These purposes were expanded in the Multiple Use-Sustained Yield Act of 1960.22 This act added recreation, livestock grazing, and wildlife and fish habitat as purposes of the national forests, with wilderness added in 1964.23 The act directed that these multiple uses be managed in a "harmonious and coordinated" manner "in the combination that will best meet the needs of the American people." The act also directed sustained yield—a high level of resource outputs in perpetuity, without impairing the productivity of the lands.

Fish and Wildlife Service

The first national wildlife refuge was established by executive order in 1903, although it was not until 1966 that the refuges were aggregated into the National Wildlife Refuge System administered by the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS).24 Today, the FWS administers 89.1 million acres of federal land in the United States, of which 76.6 million acres (86%) are in Alaska.25

The FWS has a primary-use mission—to conserve plants and animals. Other uses (recreation, hunting, timber cutting, oil or gas drilling, etc.) are permitted, to the extent that they are compatible with the species' needs.26 However, wildlife-related activities (hunting, bird-watching, hiking, education, etc.) are considered "priority uses" and are given preference over consumptive uses such as timber, grazing, and mineral extraction. It can be challenging to determine compatibility, but the relative clarity of the mission generally has minimized conflicts over refuge management and use, although there are exceptions.27

National Park Service

The National Park Service (NPS) was created in 1916 to manage the growing number of park units established by Congress and monuments proclaimed by the President.28 By September 30, 2015, the National Park System had grown to 408 units with 79.8 million acres of federal land in the United States. About two-thirds of the lands (52.4 million acres, or 66%) are in Alaska.29 Currently, the National Park System contains 417 units with 79.9 million acres. NPS units have diverse titles—national park, national monument, national preserve, national historic site, national recreation area, national battlefield, and many more.30

The NPS has a dual mission—to preserve unique resources and to provide for their enjoyment by the public. Park units include spectacular natural areas (e.g., Yellowstone, Grand Canyon, and Arches National Parks), unique prehistoric sites (e.g., Mesa Verde National Park and Dinosaur National Monument), and special places in American history (e.g., Valley Forge National Historic Park, Gettysburg National Military Park, and the Statue of Liberty National Monument), as well as recreational opportunities (e.g., Cape Cod National Seashore and Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area). The tension between providing recreation and preserving resources has caused many management challenges.

Department of Defense

The National Security Act of 1947 established a Department of National Defense (later renamed the Department of Defense, or DOD) by consolidating the previously separate Cabinet-level Department of War (renamed Department of the Army) and Department of the Navy and creating the Department of the Air Force.31 Responsibility for managing the land on federal military reservations was retained by these departments, with some transfer of Army land to the Air Force upon its creation.

There are more than 4,800 defense sites worldwide on a total of 26.1 million acres of land owned, leased, or otherwise possessed by DOD. Of the DOD sites, DOD owns 11.4 million acres in the United States, with individual parcel ownership ranging from 0 acres owned to 2.3 million acres (for the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico).32 Although management of military reservations remains the responsibility of each of the various military departments and defense agencies, those secretaries and directors operate under the centralized direction of the Secretary of Defense. With regard to natural resource conservation, defense instruction provides that

The principal purpose of DOD lands, waters, airspace, and coastal resources is to support mission-related activities. All DOD natural resources conservation program activities shall work to guarantee DOD continued access to its land, air, and water resources for realistic military training and testing and to sustain the long-term ecological integrity of the resource base and the ecosystem services it provides.... DOD shall manage its natural resources to facilitate testing and training, mission readiness, and range sustainability in a long-term, comprehensive, coordinated, and cost-effective manner.33

Federal Land Ownership, 2015

The roughly 640 million acres of federal land in the United States represents about 28% of the total land base of 2.27 billion acres. Table 1 provides data on the total acreage of federal land administered by the four major federal land management agencies and the DOD in each state and the District of Columbia. The lands administered by each of the five agencies in each state are shown in Table 2.34 These tables reflect federal acreage as of September 30, 2015, except that DOD figures are current as of September 30, 2014. The figures understate total federal land, since they do not include lands administered by other federal agencies, such as the Bureau of Reclamation and the Department of Energy. Table 1 also identifies the total acreage of each state and the percentage of land in each state administered by the five federal land agencies. These percentages point to significant variation in the federal presence within states. The figures range from 0.3% of land (in Connecticut and Iowa) to 79.6% of land (in Nevada). Figure 1, Figure 2, and Figure 3 show these federal lands. Figure 1 is a map of federal lands in the West; Figure 2 is a map of federal lands in the East; and Figure 3 is a map of federal lands in Alaska and Hawaii.

Although 15 states contain less than half a million acres of federal land,35 the 11 western states and Alaska each have more than 10 million acres managed by these five agencies within their borders. This discrepancy is a result of early treaties, land settlement laws and patterns, and laws requiring that states agree to surrender any claim to federal lands within their border as a prerequisite for admission to the Union. Management of these lands is often controversial, especially in states where the federal government is a predominant or majority landholder and where competing and conflicting uses of the lands are at issue.

Table 1. Total Federal Land Administered by Five Agencies, by State, 2015

 

Total Federal
Acreage

Total Acreage
in State

% of
State

Alabama

867,360

32,678,400

2.7%

Alaska

224,135,990

365,481,600

61.3%

Arizona

28,105,757

72,688,000

38.7%

Arkansas

4,221,856

33,599,360

12.6%

California

46,000,329

100,206,720

45.9%

Colorado

23,849,572

66,485,760

35.9%

Connecticut

8,939

3,135,360

0.3%

Delaware

29,864

1,265,920

2.4%

District of Columbia

9,683

39,040

24.8%

Florida

4,500,198

34,721,280

13.0%

Georgia

1,759,210

37,295,360

4.7%

Hawaii

820,836

4,105,600

20.0%

Idaho

32,623,376

52,933,120

61.6%

Illinois

411,319

35,795,200

1.1%

Indiana

385,405

23,158,400

1.7%

Iowa

122,649

35,860,480

0.3%

Kansas

272,987

52,510,720

0.5%

Kentucky

1,093,687

25,512,320

4.3%

Louisiana

1,394,991

28,867,840

4.8%

Maine

210,678

19,847,680

1.1%

Maryland

192,948

6,319,360

3.1%

Massachusetts

61,265

5,034,880

1.2%

Michigan

3,635,741

36,492,160

10.0%

Minnesota

3,495,893

51,205,760

6.8%

Mississippi

1,614,264

30,222,720

5.3%

Missouri

1,636,598

44,248,320

3.7%

Montana

27,049,302

93,271,040

29.0%

Nebraska

546,976

49,031,680

1.1%

Nevada

55,928,507

70,264,320

79.6%

New Hampshire

799,740

5,768,960

13.9%

New Jersey

179,792

4,813,440

3.7%

New Mexico

27,508,382

77,766,400

35.4%

New York

188,537

30,680,960

0.6%

North Carolina

2,422,249

31,402,880

7.7%

North Dakota

1,738,150

44,452,480

3.9%

Ohio

307,180

26,222,080

1.2%

Oklahoma

700,996

44,087,680

1.6%

Oregon

32,644,541

61,598,720

53.0%

Pennsylvania

617,656

28,804,480

2.1%

Rhode Island

4,410

677,120

0.7%

South Carolina

901,208

19,374,080

4.7%

South Dakota

2,649,417

48,881,920

5.4%

Tennessee

1,274,042

26,727,680

4.8%

Texas

2,990,951

168,217,600

1.8%

Utah

33,275,132

52,696,960

63.1%

Vermont

465,247

5,936,640

7.8%

Virginia

2,514,903

25,496,320

9.9%

Washington

12,193,623

42,693,760

28.6%

West Virginia

1,134,142

15,410,560

7.4%

Wisconsin

1,793,699

35,011,200

5.1%

Wyoming

30,183,609

62,343,040

48.4%

U.S. Total

621,473,785

2,271,343,360

27.4%

Sources: For federal lands, see sources listed in Table 2. Total acreage of states is from U.S. General Services Administration, Office of Governmentwide Policy, Federal Real Property Profile, as of September 30, 2004, Table 16, pp. 18-19.

Notes: Figures understate federal lands in each state and the total in the United States. They include only Bureau of Land Management (BLM), Forest Service (FS), Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), National Park Service (NPS), and Department of Defense (DOD) lands. Thus, the figures exclude federal lands managed by other agencies, such as the Bureau of Reclamation, and Indian lands, such as those held in trust by the United States. Also, figures do not reflect land managed by the agencies in the territories; FWS-managed marine refuges and national monuments (totaling 471.1 million acres); and DOD-managed acreage overseas. Federal land figures do not add to the precise total shown due to small discrepancies in the sources used. Here and throughout the report, figures also might not sum to the totals shown due to rounding.

Table 2. Federal Acreage in Each State by Agency, 2015

State

BLM

FS

FWS

NPS

DOD

Alabama

25,720

670,527

32,334

17,445

121,334

Alaska

72,234,836

22,167,455

76,617,382

52,426,440

689,877

Arizona

12,204,188

11,204,170

1,683,354

2,649,309

364,736

Arkansas

1,069,199

2,592,794

376,648

98,307

84,908

California

15,364,784

20,762,205

294,247

7,588,161

1,990,931

Colorado

8,313,557

14,483,003

174,986

661,506

216,520

Connecticut

0

23

1,583

5,846

1,487

Delaware

0

0

25,543

890

3,431

Dist. of Col.

0

0

0

8,476

1,207

Florida

28,818

1,197,164

284,278

2,468,375

521,563

Georgia

0

867,381

482,942

39,823

369,065

Hawaii

0

0

299,432a

357,937

163,467

Idaho

11,614,828

20,444,100

49,733

511,600

3,116

Illinois

20

304,480

89,767

12

17,040

Indiana

0

203,682

15,992

10,752

154,979

Iowa

0

0

72,064

2,708

47,878

Kansas

0

108,635

29,509

462

134,381

Kentucky

0

819,548

11,813

94,103

168,223

Louisiana

56,969

608,535

585,563

16,799

127,126

Maine

0

53,880

68,950

67,003

20,845

Maryland

548

0

48,811

41,432

102,157

Massachusetts

0

0

22,735

32,961

5,569

Michigan

735

2,874,075

117,199

631,852

11,880

Minnesota

1,446

2,844,452

507,913

139,632

2,450

Mississippi

65,218

1,191,761

211,302

103,998

41,985

Missouri

59

1,505,833

60,565

54,405

15,736

Montana

7,989,642

17,181,530

650,856

1,214,307

12,968

Nebraska

6,354

351,205

173,773

5,899

9,745

Nevada

46,977,225

5,760,343

2,344,972

797,603

48,364

New Hampshire

0

748,479

34,674

13,521

3,066

New Jersey

0

0

73,106

35,542

71,144

New Mexico

14,093,947

9,225,183

332,058

466,709

3,390,485

New York

0

16,352

28,992

33,715

109,478

North Carolina

0

1,255,197

419,646

363,592

383,814

North Dakota

59,970

1,103,162

488,480

71,258

15,280

Ohio

0

244,420

8,790

20,284

33,686

Oklahoma

1,975

399,425

107,078

10,008

182,510

Oregon

16,145,403

15,696,492

574,960

196,197

31,489

Pennsylvania

0

513,889

10,336

52,150

41,281

Rhode Island

0

0

2,415

5

1,991

South Carolina

0

632,415

129,339

31,972

107,482

South Dakota

274,526

2,005,867

206,650

147,962

14,411

Tennessee

0

720,188

54,093

358,145

141,616

Texas

11,833

756,602

557,741

1,205,113

459,662

Utah

22,820,768

8,189,522

110,567

2,097,786

56,489

Vermont

0

410,115

34,195

9,836

11,101

Virginia

805

1,665,970

130,193

305,403

412,532

Washington

429,083

9,328,584

162,580b

1,834,586

438,789

West Virginia

0

1,046,231

19,850

65,194

2,866

Wisconsin

2,324

1,523,744

202,046

61,779

3,806

Wyoming

18,550,771

9,214,699

70,679

2,344,972

2,488

U.S. Totalc

248,345,551

192,893,317

89,092,711

79,773,772

11,368,434

Territories

0

28,823

2,092,276

26,852

65,423

Marine areas

0

0

471,140,165d

0

0

Overseas

0

0

0

0

12,487

Agency Total

248,345,551

192,922,127

562,325,152d

79,800,624

11,589,762

Sources: For BLM: U.S. Dept. of the Interior, Bureau of Land Management, Public Land Statistics, 2015, Table 1-4, https://www.blm.gov/public_land_statistics/pls15/pls2015.pdf.

For FS: U.S. Dept. of Agriculture, Forest Service, Land Areas Report—As of Sept 30, 2015, Tables 1 and 4, https://www.fs.fed.us/land/staff/lar/LAR2015/lar2015index.html. Data reflect land within the National Forest System, including national forests, national grasslands, purchase units, land utilization projects, experimental areas, and other areas. This source shows an agency total of 192,922,127. However, the individual state acreages in this source, and copied here, appear to sum to 192,922,140. The reason for the discrepancy is not apparent. In this CRS report, the agency total is reflected as 192,922,127 and the U.S. total as 192,893,317.

For FWS: U.S. Dept. of the Interior, Fish and Wildlife Service, Annual Report of Lands Under Control of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, as of September 30, 2015, Table 1A, https://www.fws.gov/refuges/land/PDF/2015_Annual_Report_of_LandsDataTables.pdf. Data reflect all federally owned land over which the FWS has sole or primary jurisdiction.

For NPS: U.S. Dept. of the Interior, National Park Service, Land Resources Division, National Park Service, Listing of Acreage by State, as of 9/30/2015, unpublished document. Data reflect federally owned lands managed by the NPS. For information on acreage by unit, see the NPS website, https://irma.nps.gov/Stats/.

For DOD: U.S. Department of Defense, Office of the Deputy Under Secretary for Installations & Environment, Base Structure Report, Fiscal Year 2015 Baseline (A Summary of DoD's Real Property Inventory), as of September 30, 2014, VI. Total DOD Inventory, pp. DOD-29 to DOD-85, http://www.acq.osd.mil/eie/Downloads/BSI/Base%20Structure%20Report%20FY15.pdf. This source excludes U.S. Army Corps of Engineers lands. It shows a combined U.S./U.S. territories total of 11,577,275 acres, an overseas total of 12,487 acres, and an agency total of 11,589,762 acres. However, the individual acreages in this source, and copied here, appear to sum to a U.S. total of 11,368,434 and a U.S. territories total of 65,423. Together with the overseas total of 12,487 shown in the report, the agency total would be 11,446,344. The reason for the discrepancies is not apparent. In this CRS report, the agency total is reflected as 11,589,762 and the U.S. total as 11,368,434.

Notes: See notes for Table 1.

a. Excludes Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument (88,635,029 acres) administered by FWS.

b. Includes Hanford Reach National Monument (32,965 acres) administered by FWS but not as part of the National Wildlife Refuge System.

c. Includes lands in the 50 states and the District of Columbia.

d. Includes lands and waters of marine refuges and national monuments administered by the FWS, both within and outside the National Wildlife Refuge System.

Figure 1. Western Federal Lands Managed by Five Agencies

Source: Map boundaries and information generated by CRS using federal lands GIS data from the National Atlas, 2005, and an ESRI USA Base Map.

Notes: Scale 1:11,283,485. The line along the coast of California indicates BLM administration of numerous small islands along the length of the California coast. Also, the map may reflect a broader definition of DOD land than shown in the data in Table 2.

Figure 2. Eastern Federal Lands Managed by Five Agencies

Source: Map boundaries and information generated by CRS using federal lands GIS data from the National Atlas, 2005, and an ESRI USA Base Map.

Note: Scale 1:13,293,047. Also, the map may reflect a broader definition of DOD land than shown in the data in Table 2.

Figure 3. Federal Lands in Alaska and Hawaii Managed by Five Agencies

Source: Map boundaries and information generated by CRS using federal lands GIS data from the National Atlas, 2005, and an ESRI USA Base Map.

Note: Hawaii scale 1:8,000,000. Alaska scale 1:20,000,000. Also, the map may reflect a broader definition of DOD land than shown in the data in Table 2.

Federal Land Ownership Changes, 1990-2015

Since 1990, total federal lands have generally declined. Many disposals of areas of federal lands have occurred. At the same time, the federal government has acquired many parcels of land, and there have been various new federal land designations, including wilderness areas and national park units. Through the numerous individual acquisitions and disposals since 1990, the total federal land ownership has declined by 25.4 million acres, or 3.9% of the total of the five agencies, as shown in Table 3. The total acreage decline reflects decreased acreage for two agencies but increased acreage for three others. Specifically, BLM ownership decreased by 23.7 million acres (8.7%),36 and DOD lands declined by 9.1 million acres (44.5%). In contrast, the NPS, FWS, and FS expanded their acreage during the period, with the NPS having the largest increase in both acreage and percentage growth3.6 million acres (4.8%). In some cases, a decrease in one agency's acreage was tied to an increase in acreage owned by another agency.37

Table 3. Change in Federal Acreage Since 1990, by Agency

 

1990

2000

2010

2015

Change
1990-2015

% Change
Since 1990

BLM

272,029,418

264,398,133

247,859,076

248,345,551

-23,683,867

-8.7%

FS

191,367,364

192,355,099

192,880,840

192,893,317

1,525,953

0.8%

FWS

86,822,107

88,225,669

88,948,699

89,092,711

2,270,604

2.6%

NPS

76,133,510

77,931,021

79,691,484

79,773,772

3,640,262

4.8%

DOD

20,501,315

24,052,268

19,421,540

11,368,434

-9,132,881

-44.5%

U.S. Total

646,853,714

646,962,190

628,801,839

621,473,785

-25,379,929

-3.9%

Sources: See sources listed Table 2.

Notes: See notes for Table 1. Also, DOD figures for the years indicated were not readily available. Rather, the DOD figures for the four columns were derived respectively from the FY1989 Base Structure Report (published in February 1988), the FY1999 Base Structure Report (with data as of September 30, 1999), the FY2010 Base Structure Report (with data as of September 30, 2009), and the FY2015 Base Structure Report (with data as of September 30, 2014).

The total federal acreage decline (shown in Table 3) is a composite of various decreases in acreage in 15 states and increases in acreage in 36 states (including the District of Columbia). However, a reduction in federal lands in Alaska was a major reason for the total decline in federal lands since 1990. As shown in Table 4, federal land declined in Alaska by 21.5 million acres (8.8%) between 1990 and 2015. This decline in Alaska is largely the result of the disposal of BLM land, under law, to the State of Alaska, Alaska Natives, and Alaska Native Corporations.

Federal land also decreased in the 11 contiguous western states, by 6.6 million acres (1.9%). Reflected in this overall decline are reductions for 4 of the 11 states, with decreases of 6.3 million acres in Arizona, 4.1 million acres in Nevada,38 and smaller decreases in Utah and California. Seven of the 11 states had varying increases, with the largest being 2.8 million acres in New Mexico.

Outside Alaska and the other western states, federal land increased by 2.8 million acres (6.1%). This increase was not uniform, with declines in some states and varying increases (in acreages and percentage) in others.

Table 4. Change in Federal Acreage Since 1990, by State

 

1990

2000

2010

2015

Change
1990-2015

% Change
Since 1990

Alabama

944,505

979,907

871,232

867,360

-77,145

-8.2%

Alaska

245,669,027

237,828,917

225,848,164

224,135,990

-21,533,037

-8.8%

Arizona

34,399,867

33,421,887

30,741,287

28,105,757

-6,294,110

-18.3%

Arkansas

3,147,518

3,418,455

3,161,978

4,221,856

1,074,338

34.1%

California

46,182,591

47,490,824

47,797,533

46,000,329

-182,262

-0.4%

Colorado

23,579,790

24,001,922

24,086,075

23,849,572

269,782

1.1%

Connecticut

6,784

9,012

8,557

8,939

2,155

31.8%

Delaware

27,731

28,397

28,574

29,864

2,133

7.7%

Dist. of Col.

9,533

8,466

8,450

9,683

150

1.6%

Florida

4,344,976

4,671,958

4,536,811

4,500,198

155,222

3.6%

Georgia

1,921,674

1,933,464

1,956,720

1,759,210

-162,464

-8.5%

Hawaii

715,215

682,650

833,786

820,836

105,621

14.8%

Idaho

32,566,081

32,569,711

32,635,835

32,623,376

57,295

0.2%

Illinois

353,061

403,835

406,734

411,319

58,258

16.5%

Indiana

274,483

394,243

340,696

385,405

110,922

40.4%

Iowa

33,247

83,134

122,602

122,649

89,402

268.9%

Kansas

281,135

300,465

301,157

272,987

-8,148

-2.9%

Kentucky

966,483

1,065,814

1,083,104

1,093,687

127,204

13.2%

Louisiana

1,578,151

1,565,875

1,330,429

1,394,991

-183,160

-11.6%

Maine

176,486

210,167

209,735

210,678

34,192

19.4%

Maryland

173,707

190,783

195,986

192,948

19,241

11.1%

Massachusetts

63,291

63,998

81,692

61,265

-2,026

-3.2%

Michigan

3,649,258

3,692,271

3,637,965

3,635,741

-13,517

-0.4%

Minnesota

3,545,702

3,581,741

3,469,211

3,495,893

-49,809

-1.4%

Mississippi

1,478,726

1,544,501

1,523,574

1,614,264

135,538

9.2%

Missouri

1,666,718

1,676,175

1,675,400

1,636,598

-30,120

-1.8%

Montana

26,726,219

26,745,666

26,921,861

27,049,302

323,083

1.2%

Nebraska

528,707

556,347

549,346

546,976

18,269

3.5%

Nevada

60,012,488

60,180,297

56,961,778

55,928,507

-4,083,981

-6.8%

New Hampshire

734,163

754,858

777,807

799,740

65,577

8.9%

New Jersey

146,436

164,865

176,691

179,792

33,356

22.8%

New Mexico

24,742,260

26,829,296

27,001,583

27,508,382

2,766,122

11.2%

New York

215,441

229,097

211,422

188,537

-26,904

-12.5%

North Carolina

2,289,509

2,415,560

2,426,699

2,422,249

132,740

5.8%

North Dakota

1,727,541

1,729,430

1,735,755

1,738,150

10,609

0.6%

Ohio

234,396

289,566

298,500

307,180

72,784

31.1%

Oklahoma

505,898

696,377

703,336

700,996

195,098

38.6%

Oregon

32,062,004

32,703,212

32,665,430

32,644,541

582,537

1.8%

Pennsylvania

611,249

598,165

616,895

617,656

6,407

1.0%

Rhode Island

3,110

4,867

5,248

4,410

1,300

41.8%

South Carolina

891,182

872,173

898,637

901,208

10,026

1.1%

South Dakota

2,626,594

2,642,646

2,646,241

2,649,417

22,823

0.9%

Tennessee

980,416

1,251,514

1,273,974

1,274,042

293,626

29.9%

Texas

2,651,675

2,855,997

2,977,950

2,990,951

339,276

12.8%

Utah

33,582,578

34,982,884

35,033,603

33,275,132

-307,446

-0.9%

Vermont

346,518

428,314

453,871

465,247

118,729

34.3%

Virginia

2,319,524

2,381,575

2,358,071

2,514,903

195,379

8.4%

Washington

11,983,984

12,646,137

12,173,813

12,193,623

209,639

1.7%

West Virginia

1,062,500

1,096,956

1,130,951

1,134,142

71,642

6.7%

Wisconsin

1,980,460

2,006,778

1,865,374

1,793,699

-186,761

-9.4%

Wyoming

30,133,121

30,081,046

30,043,513

30,183,609

50,488

0.2%

U.S. Total

646,853,714

646,962,190

628,801,639

621,473,785

-25,379,929

-3.9%

Sources: See sources listed in Table 2.

Notes: See notes to Table 1 and Table 3.

Current Issues

Since the cession to the federal government of the western lands by several of the original 13 states, many federal land issues have recurred. The extent of ownership continues to be debated. Some advocate disposing of federal lands to state or private ownership; others favor retaining currently owned lands; still others promote land acquisition by the federal government, including through increased or more stable funding sources. Another focus is on the condition of federal lands and related infrastructure. Some assert that lands and infrastructure have deteriorated and that agency activities and funding should focus on restoration and maintenance, whereas others advocate expanding federal protection to additional lands. Debates also encompass the extent to which federal lands should be developed, preserved, and open to recreation and whether federal lands should be managed primarily to produce national benefits or benefits primarily for the localities and states in which the lands are located. Finally, management of, and access to, federal lands along and near the southwestern border raise questions about border security and the role of law enforcement. These issues are discussed below (see "Border Security").39

Extent of Ownership

The optimal extent of federal land ownership is an enduring issue for Congress. Current debates encompass the extent to which the federal government should dispose of, retain, or acquire lands in general and in particular areas. Advocates of retention of federal lands, and federal acquisition of additional lands, assert a variety of benefits to the public of federal land ownership. They include protection and preservation of unique natural and other resources; open space; and public access, especially for recreation. Some support land protection from development.

Disposal advocates have expressed concerns about the efficacy and efficiency of federal land management, accessibility of federal lands for certain types of recreation, and limitations on development of federal lands. Some support selling federal land for financial reasons, such as to help lower federal expenditures, reduce the deficit, or balance the budget. Others assert that limited federal resources constrain agencies' abilities to protect and manage the lands and resources. Other concerns involve the potential influence of federal land protection on private property, development, and local economic activity. Some seek disposal to states or private landowners to foster state, local, and private control over lands and resources.

Other issues center on the suitability of authorities for acquiring and disposing of lands and their use in particular areas. Congress has provided to the federal agencies varying authorities for acquiring and disposing of land.40 With regard to acquisition, the BLM has relatively broad authority, the FWS has various authorities, and the FS authority is mostly limited to lands within or contiguous to the boundaries of a national forest. DOD also has authority for acquisitions.41 By contrast, the NPS has no general authority to acquire land to create new park units. Condemnation for acquiring land is feasible, but rarely is used by any of the agencies and its potential use has been controversial. The primary funding mechanism for federal land acquisition, for the four major federal land management agencies, has been appropriations from the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF).42 For the FWS, the Migratory Bird Conservation Fund (supported by sales of Duck Stamps and import taxes on arms and ammunition) provides a significant additional source of mandatory spending for land acquisition. Funding for acquisitions by DOD is provided in Department of Defense appropriations laws.

With regard to disposal, the NPS and FWS have no general authority to dispose of the lands they administer, and the FS disposal authorities are restricted. The BLM has broader authority under provisions of FLPMA.43 DOD lands that are excess to military needs can be disposed of under the surplus property process administered by the General Services Administration.44

It is not uncommon for Congress to enact legislation providing for the acquisition or disposal of particular lands where an agency lacks such authority or providing particular procedures for specified land transactions. Further, recent Congresses have considered measures to establish or amend broader authorities for acquiring or disposing of land.

Western Land Concentration

The concentration of federal lands in the West has contributed to a higher degree of controversy over federal land ownership in that part of the country. For instance, the dominance of BLM and FS lands in the western states has led to various efforts to divest the federal government of significant amounts of land. Currently, some western states, among others, are considering measures to provide for or express support for the transfer of federal lands to states, to establish task forces or commissions to examine federal land transfer issues, and to assert management authority over federal lands. An earlier collection of efforts from the late 1970s and early 1980s, known as the Sagebrush Rebellion, also sought to foster divestiture of federal lands. However, that effort was not successful in achieving this end through legal challenges in the federal courts and efforts to persuade the Reagan Administration and Congress to transfer the lands to state or private ownership. Some supporters of continued or expanded federal land ownership have asserted that state and local resource constraints, other economic considerations, or environmental or recreational priorities weigh against state challenges to federal land ownership. In recent years, some states have considered measures to express support for federal lands or to limit the sale of federal lands in the state.45

As shown in Table 1 and Table 2, the 11 contiguous western states and Alaska have extensive areas of federal lands. Table 5 summarizes the data in Table 1 to clarify the difference in the extent of federal ownership between western and other states. As can be seen, 61.3% of the land in Alaska is federally owned, which includes 86.0% of the total FWS lands and 65.7% of the total NPS lands. Of the land in the 11 contiguous western states, 46.4% is federally owned, which includes 73.4% of total FS lands and 70.3% of total BLM lands. In the rest of the country, the federal government owns 4.2% of the lands, with 60.9% of those managed by the FS.

Table 5. Federal Acreage by State or Region and by Agency, 2015

 

Alaska

11 Western
Statesa

Other
States

U.S. Total

BLM

72,234,836

174,504,196

1,606,519

248,345,551

FS

22,167,455

141,489,831

29,236,031

192,893,317

FWS

76,617,382

6,448,993

6,026,337

89,092,711

NPS

52,426,440

20,362,735

6,984,597

79,773,772

DOD

689,877

6,556,375

4,122,182

11,368,434

U.S. Total

224,135,990

349,362,130

47,975,666

621,473,785

Acreage of States

365,481,600

752,947,840

1,152,913,920

2,271,343,360

Percentage Federal

61.3%

46.4%

4.2%

27.4%

Sources: For federal lands, see sources listed in Table 2. Total acreage of states is from U.S. General Services Administration, Office of Governmentwide Policy, Federal Real Property Profile, as of September 30, 2004, Table 16, pp. 18-19.

Notes: See notes for Table 1.

a. The 11 western states are Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming.

Maintaining Infrastructure and Lands

Debate continues over how to balance the acquisition of new assets and lands with the maintenance of the agencies' existing infrastructure and the care of current federal lands. Some assert that addressing the condition of infrastructure and lands in current federal ownership is paramount. They support ecological restoration as a focus of agency activities and funding and an emphasis on managing current federal lands for continued productivity and public benefit. They oppose new land acquisitions and unit designations until the backlog of maintenance activities has been eliminated or greatly reduced and the condition of current range, forest, and other federal lands is significantly improved. Others contend that expanding federal protection to additional lands is essential to provide new areas for public use, protect important natural and cultural resources, and respond to changing land and resource conditions.

The ecological condition of current federal lands has long been a focus of attention. For example, the poor condition of public rangelands due to overgrazing was the rationale for enacting the Taylor Grazing Act of 1934 and the creation of the BLM.46 Today, debates on the health and productivity of federal lands center on rangelands, forests, riparian areas, and other resources. These lands and resources might be affected in some areas by various land uses, such as livestock grazing, recreation, and energy development. Many other variables might impact the health of federal lands and resources, including wildfires, community expansion, invasive weeds, and drought.

The deferred maintenance of federal infrastructure also has been a focus of Congress and the Administration for many years. Deferred maintenance, often called the maintenance backlog, is defined as maintenance that was not done when scheduled or planned. The agencies assert that continuing to defer maintenance of facilities accelerates their rate of deterioration, increases their repair costs, and decreases their value.

Congressional and administrative attention has centered on the NPS backlog. DOI estimated deferred maintenance for the NPS for FY2016 at $10.93 billion. Of the total deferred maintenance, 58% was for roads, bridges, and trails; 19% was for buildings; 6% was for irrigation, dams, and other water structures; and 17% was for other structures (e.g., recreation sites).47 DOI estimates of the NPS backlog have increased overall since FY1999, from $4.25 billion in that year.48 It is unclear what portion of the change is due to the addition of maintenance work that was not done on time or the availability of more precise estimates of the backlog. The NPS, as well as the other land management agencies, increased efforts to define and quantify maintenance needs over the past decade.

While attention has focused on the NPS backlog, the other federal land management agencies also have maintenance backlogs. The FS estimated its backlog for FY2016 at $5.49 billion.49 Of the total deferred maintenance, 59% was for roads,50 22% was for buildings, and the remaining 19% was for a variety of other assets (e.g., trails, fences, and bridges). For FY2016, DOI estimated the FWS backlog at $1.40 billion and the BLM backlog at $0.81 billion.51 The four agencies together had a combined FY2016 backlog estimated at $18.62 billion.

The agency backlogs have been attributed to decades of funding shortfalls. However, it is unclear how much total funding has been provided for the maintenance backlog over the years. Annual presidential budget requests and appropriations laws typically have not identified funds from all sources that may be used to address the maintenance backlog. Opinions differ over the level of funds needed to address deferred maintenance, whether to use funds from other programs and sources, and how to prioritize funds for maintenance needs.

Protection and Use

The extent to which federal lands should be made available for development, opened to recreation, and/or preserved has been controversial. Significant differences of opinion exist on the amount of traditional commercial development that should be allowed, particularly involving energy development, grazing, and timber harvesting. Whether and where to restrict recreation, generally and for high-impact uses such as motorized off-road vehicles, also is a focus. How much land to dedicate to enhanced protection, what type of protection to provide, and who should protect federal lands are continuing questions. Another area under consideration involves how to balance the protection of wild horses and burros on federal lands with protection of the range and other land uses.

Debates also encompass whether federal lands should be managed primarily to emphasize benefits nationally or for the localities and states where the lands are located. National benefits can include using lands to produce wood products for housing or energy from traditional (oil, gas, coal) and alternative/renewable sources (wind, solar, geothermal, biomass). Other national benefits might encompass clean water for downstream uses; biodiversity for ecological resilience and adaptability; and wild animals and wild places for the human spirit. Local benefits can include economic activities, such as livestock grazing, timber for sawmills, ski areas, tourism, and other types of development. Local benefits could also be scenic vistas and areas for recreation—picnicking, sightseeing, backpacking, four-wheeling, snowmobiling, hunting and fishing, and much more.

At some levels, the many uses and values can generally be compatible. However, as demands on the federal lands have risen, the conflicts among uses and values have escalated. Some lands—notably those administered by the FWS and DOD—have an overriding primary purpose (wildlife habitat and military needs, respectively). The conflicts typically are greatest for the multiple-use lands managed by the BLM and FS, because the potential uses and values are more diverse.

Other issues of debate include who decides the national-local balance, and how those decisions are made. Some would like to see more local control of land and a reduced federal role, while others seek to maintain or enhance the federal role in land management to represent the interests of all citizens.

Border Security52

Border security presents special challenges on federal lands,53 in part because federal lands tend to be geographically remote, resulting in limited law enforcement coverage, and because they tend to include mountains, deserts, and other inhospitable terrain. Federal lands along the southwestern border saw an apparent increase in illegal immigration, smuggling, and other illegal activity beginning in the mid-1990s, as the U.S. Border Patrol (USBP) implemented a national border enforcement strategy that focused initially on deterring illegal entry in traditional crossing areas.54

In general, federal efforts to secure the border are subject to the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (NEPA),55 which requires agencies to evaluate the potential environmental impacts of proposed programs, projects, and actions before decisions are made to implement them. They also are governed by related regulations (40 C.F.R. Part 1500) that require agencies to integrate NEPA project evaluations with other planning and regulatory compliance requirements to ensure that planning and decisions reflect environmental considerations.56 However, the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has authority under law to waive NEPA and other environmental laws for construction of fencing and other barriers along the U.S. international borders to deter illegal crossings.57 In the past, legislation has been introduced to broaden DHS's exemption from NEPA, land management statutes, and other environmental laws to facilitate border security activities on federal lands. Some oppose such legislation on the grounds that it would remove important protections for sensitive and critical habitats and resources.

There are extensive federal lands along the southwestern border with Mexico and the northern border with Canada. The lands are managed by different federal agencies under various laws for many purposes. Figure 4 shows federal and Indian lands within 50 and 100 miles from the U.S.-Mexican border, which has been of particular focus. Precise estimates of the acreage involved are not readily available because the agencies do not distinguish their lands by distance from the border. One estimate provided by the agencies to the House Committee on Natural Resources reported that within 100 miles of the border, there were about 26.7 million acres of federal lands.58 Nearly half of this land (12.3 million acres) was managed by BLM, and the other federal lands were managed by DOD (5.8 million acres), FS (3.8 million acres), NPS (2.4 million acres), FWS (2.2 million acres), and other federal agencies (0.2 million acres).

The USBP is the lead agency for border security between ports of entry, but more than 40% of the southwestern border abuts federal and tribal lands overseen by the FS and four DOI agencies (including the Bureau of Indian Affairs) that also have law enforcement responsibilities.59 Differences in missions and jurisdictional complexity among these agencies have been identified as potentially hindering border control. To facilitate control efforts, the three departments—DHS, the Department of Agriculture (for the FS), and DOI—signed memoranda of understanding (MOUs) on border security. These MOUs govern information sharing, budgeting, and operational planning; USBP access to federal lands; and interoperable radio communications, among other topics.60 Although these efforts helped to address some of the agency differences in border security missions and jurisdiction, in 2010, the U.S. Government Accountability Office found that interagency coordination to protect border security on federal lands remained somewhat problematic.61 Subsequently, federal officials have made positive statements with regard to improved coordination among agencies. For example, in 2016, DOI Interagency Borderlands Coordinator Jon Andrews noted that federal agencies with law enforcement presence on federal lands along the borders have "developed a cohesive, cooperative approach to border security."62

Figure 4. Federal and Indian Lands Near the Southwestern Border

Source: Map boundaries and information generated by CRS using U.S. Geological Survey, Gap Analysis Program (GAP). May 2016. Protected Areas Database of the United States (PAD-US), version 1.4 Combined Feature Class and an ESRI USA Base Map.

Note: Federal lands not owned by BLM, DOD, FS, FWS, and NPS or held in trust by the Bureau of Indian Affairs were not included due to their small size relative to the displayed federal lands.

Author Contact Information

[author name scrubbed], Specialist in Natural Resources Policy ([email address scrubbed], [phone number scrubbed])
[author name scrubbed], Senior Research Librarian ([email address scrubbed], [phone number scrubbed])
[author name scrubbed], Analyst in Immigration Policy ([email address scrubbed], [phone number scrubbed])

Footnotes

1.

Total federal land in the United States is not definitively known. The estimate of 640 million acres presumes that the four major federal land management agencies have accurate data on lands under their jurisdiction (estimated at 610.1 million acres) as does the Department of Defense (DOD; estimated at 11.4 million acres), as shown in Table 1. Other agencies are presumed to encompass about 15-20 million acres of federal land, although this estimate is rough. The estimate of 640 million acres generally excludes lands in marine refuges and national monuments and ownership of interests in lands (e.g., subsurface minerals, easements, etc.). It also does not reflect Indian lands, many of which are held in trust by the federal government but are not owned by the federal government. According to the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA), the U.S. holds approximately 56.2 million acres in trust for various Indian tribes and individuals. There are also other types of Indian lands. See U.S. Department of the Interior, BIA, "Frequently Asked Questions," at https://www.bia.gov/FAQs/.

2.

Acreage figures for the four land management agencies are current as of September 30, 2015, while the DOD figure is current as of September 30, 2014. The DOD figure excludes land managed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

3.

In addition, Forest Service (FS), Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), National Park Service (NPS), and DOD manage varying acreages in the U.S. territories; FWS manages 471.1 million acres of marine refuges and national monuments; and DOD manages 12,487 acres overseas. See Table 1.

4.

In this report, the term federal land is used to refer to any land owned (fee simple title) and managed by the federal government, regardless of its mode of acquisition or managing agency; it excludes lands administered by a federal agency under easements, leases, contracts, or other arrangements. Public land is used to refer to lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management as defined in 43 U.S.C. §1702(e).

5.

These major land acquisitions gave rise to a distinction in the laws between public domain lands, which essentially are those ceded by the original states or obtained from a foreign sovereign (via purchase, treaty, or other means), and acquired lands, which are those obtained from a state or individual by exchange, purchase, or gift. About 90% of all federal lands are public domain lands, while the other 10% are acquired lands. Many laws were enacted that related only to public domain lands. Even though the distinction has lost most of its underlying significance today, different laws may still apply depending on the original nature of the lands involved.

6.

U.S. Dept. of the Interior, Bureau of Land Management, Public Land Statistics, 2015, Table 1-2, https://www.blm.gov/public_land_statistics/pls15/pls2015.pdf.

7.

U.S. Dept. of Commerce, Bureau of the Census, Historical Statistics of the United States, Colonial Times to 1970 (Washington, DC: GPO, 1976), H.Doc. 93-78 (93rd Congress, 1st Session), pp. 428-429. The homesteading laws were repealed in 1976, although homesteading was allowed to continue in Alaska for 10 years.

8.

Act of March 1, 1872; 16 U.S.C. §21, et seq. "Yo-Semite" had been established by an act of Congress in 1864, to protect Yosemite Valley from development, but was transferred to the State of California to administer. In 1890, surrounding lands were designated as Yosemite National Park, and in 1905, Yosemite Valley was returned to federal jurisdiction and incorporated into the park. Still earlier, Hot Springs Reservation (AR) had been reserved in 1832; it was dedicated to public use in 1880 and designated as Hot Springs National Park in 1921.

9.

43 U.S.C. §§315, et seq.

10.

43 U.S.C. §§1701, et seq.

11.

The Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976 (FLPMA) also established a comprehensive system of management for the remaining western public lands, and a definitive mission and policy statement for the BLM.

12.

For information on appropriations for federal land management agencies, and revenues derived from federal lands, see CRS Report R43822, Federal Land Management Agencies: Appropriations and Revenues, coordinated by [author name scrubbed].

13.

For a description of these authorities, see CRS Report RL34273, Federal Land Ownership: Acquisition and Disposal Authorities, by [author name scrubbed] et al.

14.

The Bureau of Reclamation, a federal agency created in 1902, is responsible for much of the water infrastructure in the 17 states west of the Mississippi River. Reclamation is the largest water wholesaler in the country and provides irrigation water for more than 10 million acres of farmland. Pursuant to its authorities to develop and maintain water resources infrastructure, Reclamation owns more than 6 million acres of land in the western United States.

15.

Paul W. Gates, History of Public Land Law Development, written for the Public Land Law Review Commission (Washington, DC: GPO, Nov. 1968), pp. 610-622.

16.

The General Land Office administered the forest reserves prior to the creation of the FS in 1905.

17.

The 11 western states are Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming. See U.S. Dept. of the Interior, Bureau of Land Management, Public Land Statistics, 2015, Table 1-4, at https://www.blm.gov/public_land_statistics/pls15/pls2015.pdf.

18.

FLPMA is sometimes called the BLM Organic Act.

19.

Not all of the 700 million acres contain extractable mineral and energy resources.

20.

Act of March 3, 1891; 16 U.S.C. §471. This authority was repealed in 1976. See also the Organic Administration Act of 1897, 16 U.S.C. §§473 et seq.

21.

U.S. Dept. of Agriculture, Forest Service, Land Areas Report—As of Sept 30, 2015, Tables 1 and 4, https://www.fs.fed.us/land/staff/lar/LAR2015/lar2015index.html. Data reflect land in the United States within the National Forest System, including national forests, national grasslands, purchase units, land utilization projects, experimental areas, and other areas. The FS manages an additional 28,823 acres in the U.S. territories.

22.

16 U.S.C. §§528-531.

23.

The Wilderness Act of 1964, 16 U.S.C. §§1131-1136.

24.

National Wildlife Refuge System Administration Act of 1966, 16 U.S.C. §§668dd-668ee.

25.

U.S. Dept. of the Interior, Fish and Wildlife Service, Annual Report of Lands Under Control of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, as of September 30, 2015, Table 1A, at https://www.fws.gov/refuges/land/PDF/2015_Annual_Report_of_LandsDataTables.pdf. Data reflect all federally owned land in the United States over which the FWS has sole or primary jurisdiction. The FWS also administers 2.1 million acres in the U.S. territories, and 471.1 million acres of lands and waters of marine refuges and marine national monuments both within and outside the National Wildlife Refuge System. The 471.1 million acres of marine areas are as follows: Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument, 312.8 million acres; Papahanaumokuakea, 88.6 million acres; Marianas Trench, 61.1 million acres; and Rose Atoll, 8.6 million acres. See U.S. Dept. of the Interior, Fish and Wildlife Service, Annual Report of Lands Under Control of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, as of September 30, 2015, Table 10, at https://www.fws.gov/refuges/land/PDF/2015_Annual_Report_of_LandsDataTables.pdf.

26.

In some FWS lands, there are pre-existing property rights, particularly of subsurface resources, but also easements or rights-of-way. In such cases, use of these rights may conflict with primary uses of a refuge. Where possible, FWS may seek to acquire these rights through purchase from willing sellers.

27.

A notable exception, for instance, pertains to the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge. See CRS Report RL33872, Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR): A Primer for the 114th Congress, by [author name scrubbed] and [author name scrubbed].

28.

NPS was created by the Act of Aug. 25, 1916; 16 U.S.C. §§1-4.

29.

This text identifies the number of NPS units in existence on September 30, 2015, for consistency with the acreage data presented for the other agencies which are from that date (except for DOD). See U.S. Dept. of the Interior, National Park Service, Land Resources Division, National Park Service, Listing of Acreage by State, as of 9/30/2015, unpublished document. Data reflect federally owned lands managed by the NPS in the United States. The NPS manages an additional 26,852 acres in the U.S. territories.

30.

See CRS Report R41816, National Park System: What Do the Different Park Titles Signify?, by [author name scrubbed].

31.

Act of July 26, 1947; 50 U.S.C. §3001 et seq. (2012).

32.

These data are current as of September 30, 2014, the last available. See U.S. Department of Defense, Office of the Deputy Under Secretary for Installations & Environment, Base Structure Report, Fiscal Year 2015 Baseline (A Summary of DoD's Real Property Inventory). While p. DOD-2 states that there are over 4,800 sites worldwide covering over 24.9 million acres, p. DOD-85 shows 26.1 million acres, as reflected in this CRS report. The reason for the discrepancy is not apparent. See http://www.acq.osd.mil/eie/Downloads/BSI/Base%20Structure%20Report%20FY15.pdf.

33.

Department of Defense Instruction 4715.03 of March 18, 2011, p. 2.

34.

Some county-level data are available through the Payments in Lieu of Taxes (PILT) program, administered by the Department of the Interior. For these data, see https://www.doi.gov/sites/doi.gov/files/uploads/2016_pilt_national_summary.pdf. However, though most lands of the four major federal land management agencies are eligible for PILT payments, a small fraction are not. DOD lands are among those generally not eligible for PILT payments. A small portion of PILT payments are made for certain lands managed by agencies other than the five covered in this report. Thus, the PILT county-level data do not always match the state acreage data shown in this report. For additional information on PILT, see CRS Report RL31392, PILT (Payments in Lieu of Taxes): Somewhat Simplified, by [author name scrubbed] and [author name scrubbed].

35.

This includes 14 states and the District of Columbia. When referring to acreage figures in this report, states is often used to include the District of Columbia in addition to the 50 states.

36.

Some of the decline in BLM lands (about 1 million acres primarily in the eastern states) resulted from a revision in the way BLM reported acreage withdrawn or reserved for another federal agency or purpose.

37.

For instance, a decrease in BLM acreage and an increase in NPS acreage was the result of enactment of the California Desert Protection Act of 1994 (P.L. 103-433). Among other provisions, the law established one new national park unit and expanded two other park units on land that was owned by the BLM, and transferred ownership of the lands to the NPS. BLM estimated the total transfer of BLM land to the NPS for the three areas at 2.9 million acres.

38.

These reductions were due primarily to relatively large reductions of both BLM and DOD land in Arizona and of DOD land in Nevada.

39.

Additional discussion of federal land management issues is contained in CRS Report R43429, Federal Lands and Related Resources: Overview and Selected Issues for the 115th Congress, coordinated by [author name scrubbed].

40.

For information on the acquisition and disposal authorities of the four major federal land management agencies, see CRS Report RL34273, Federal Land Ownership: Acquisition and Disposal Authorities, by [author name scrubbed] et al.

41.

See 10 U.S.C. §2663.

42.

For information on the Land and Water Conservation Fund, see CRS Report RL33531, Land and Water Conservation Fund: Overview, Funding History, and Issues, by [author name scrubbed].

43.

43 U.S.C. §1713.

44.

For information on the disposal of surplus federal property by the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA), see 40 U.S.C. §101 et seq. and CRS Report R44377, Disposal of Unneeded Federal Buildings: Legislative Proposals in the 114th Congress, by [author name scrubbed]. While surplus DOD real property is routinely disposed of by the GSA, legislation authorizing base realignment and closure (BRAC) rounds typically has authorized the Secretary of Defense to exercise GSA's disposal authority during BRAC rounds. For information on DOD disposal during BRAC rounds, see CRS Report R40476, Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC): Transfer and Disposal of Military Property, by [author name scrubbed].

45.

For a discussion of issues related to potential state management of federal lands, see CRS Report R44267, State Management of Federal Lands: Frequently Asked Questions, by [author name scrubbed] and [author name scrubbed].

46.

S.T. Dana and S.K. Fairfax, Forest and Range Policy: Its Development in the United States, 2nd ed. (New York: McGraw-Hill Book Co., 1980), pp. 158-164.

47.

This information was provided to CRS by the DOI Budget Office on January 9, 2017. This estimate, and the estimates for FWS and BLM provided below, is based on DOI financial reports and may differ from figures reported by the agency independently. As one example, DOI financial reports reflect agency-owned assets only, whereas figures reported by individual DOI agencies sometimes include other types of assets (e.g., leased assets).

48.

FY1999 is the first year for which an estimate is readily available.

49.

U.S. Dept. of Agriculture, Forest Service, National Forest System Statistics FY2016, FS-905(15), February 2017.

50.

This estimate of the deferred maintenance for roads reflects passenger-car roads only.

51.

This information was provided to CRS by the DOI Budget Office on January 9, 2017.

52.

For more details see CRS Report R42138, Border Security: Immigration Enforcement Between Ports of Entry, by [author name scrubbed].

53.

A related issue is the authority, and litigation challenging the authority, to construct and maintain border barriers (the "fence"), including waivers from environmental protection statutes. However, this issue is not discussed in this report, because it is not limited to federal lands. For information on issues related to the border barrier, see CRS Report R42138, Border Security: Immigration Enforcement Between Ports of Entry, by [author name scrubbed].

54.

U.S. Government Accountability Office, Border Security: Additional Actions Needed to Better Ensure a Coordinated Federal Response to Illegal Activity on Federal Lands, GAO-11-177, November 2010, pp. 9-10, hereinafter cited as GAO-11-177, Border Security: Additional Actions Needed. See also U.S. Border Patrol, "Border Patrol Strategic Plan: 1994 and Beyond," July 1994.

55.

P.L. 91-190; 42 U.S.C. §§4321-4347.

56.

For more information on U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) compliance with NEPA and the environmental impact of its border security programs, see CBP, "SBI Environmental Documents," http://www.cbp.gov/xp/cgov/border_security/otia/sbi_news/sbi_enviro_docs/.

57.

See CRS Report R43975, Barriers Along the U.S. Borders: Key Authorities and Requirements, by [author name scrubbed].

58.

This figure excludes 3.5 million acres of Indian lands. See the map on the website of the House Committee on Natural Resources at http://naturalresources.house.gov/Info/BorderOverview.htm.

59.

GAO-11-177, Border Security: Additional Actions Needed, p. 4.

60.

For example, in 2006, DOI, DHS, and USDA entered into a memorandum of understanding entitled Cooperative National Security and Counterterrorism Efforts on Federals Lands along the United States' Borders. These departments have entered into additional memoranda of understanding addressing issues such as "road maintenance, secure radio communication, environmental coordination, and sharing of geospatial information, among others." U.S. Congress, House Committee on Natural Resources, Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, The Consequences of Federal Land Management Along the U.S. Border to Rural Communities and National Security, testimony of U.S. Department of the Interior's Interagency Borderlands Coordinator, Jon Andrew, 114th Cong., 2nd sess., April 28, 2016.

61.

Government Accountability Office, Border Security: Additional Actions Needed, GAO-11-177, p. 15.

62.

U.S. Congress, House Committee on Natural Resources, Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, The Consequences of Federal Land Management Along the U.S. Border to Rural Communities and National Security, testimony of U.S. Department of the Interior's Interagency Borderlands Coordinator, Jon Andrew, 114th Cong., 2nd sess., April 28, 2016.