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From sea to shining sea — plus Alaska and Hawaii — the total acreage of our United States of America is about 2.3 billion acres.
As of this past week, the federal government owned about 640 million acres within these United States, about three of every 10 acres.
That’s according to the U.S. House Committee on Natural Resources, which this week announced the availability of its new “Federal Footprint Map.”
The committee’s chairman, Utah Republican Rob Bishop, wants the online, interactive map to be an educational resource for Congress, the public and media.
“Whether they know it or not, every person is affected by the mammoth federal land ownership in this country,” Bishop said in announcing the map. “The Federal Footprint Map will help bridge this understanding, and will play a vital educational role as Congress evaluates and responds to executive actions and debates related policy reforms.”
The resource (available online at www.naturalresources.house.gov/federalfootprint/) is fairly easy to use, and, it’s fun to play with.
You can focus on lands involved with specific agencies such as the Forest Service, which owns much of Southeast Alaska via the Tongass National Forest. Expanding the agency choices to include the National Park Service, Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service shows that large, checkerboard swaths of Alaska are under federal ownership.
There also are some interesting statistics. The Bureau of Land Management, for example, controls about 247 million acre nationwide. We have 84 million acres tucked away in national parks, and another 193 million acres in national forests. The Department of Defense controls another 14.4 million acres.
The data also describes the amounts of land and waters devoted to things like national marine monuments (330,000 square miles), wetlands (110.1 acres by definition) and wilderness (109 million acres). And, this doesn’t count land owned by state and local governments.
Any way that one looks at it, the map and its accompanying information convey how vast the federal ownership and control of land actually is.
That understanding is key to the political point that Bishop wants the map to make.
“Most people — including policymakers — don’t know that the federal government owns three out of every 10 acres in this country and often don’t see the urgency of resisting further land grabs by the federal government,” he said in the announcement.
Bishop has a good point. The feds control a lot of land and shouldn’t be rushing out to add more territory and responsibility. In these days of budget deficits and spending cuts, the federal government clearly is becoming hard pressed to manage what it already owns.
While we don’t believe the federal government should divest itself of large amounts of land — there are good reasons to hold many areas in trust for the nation as a whole — it should be determining how to put some of its land into private, productive ownership. It also should be considering how to allow more access and use of its remaining land. Too often federal ownership means land surrounded by literal or legal fences and padlocked gates.
Productive use of these lands could benefit U.S. citizens and thereby the nation as a whole.
At present, even if we can’t use much of this federal land, it’s owned by we the people..
Take a look at the committee’s map and see what it is that you own.