I used to think that Alaska had the most federally-owned land, but it doesn't, it's in second place. The top five states are:
1. Nevada - 84.5%
2. Alaska - 69.1%
3. Utah - 57.4%
4. Oregon - 53.1%
5. Idaho - 50.1%
Did you notice that all those numbers are over 50 percent? The government manages more than half the land in each of those states! The federal government is caretaker for nearly one-third of the land in the entire U.S. The land is managed in a number of different ways, although I found it amazingly hard to find info on the internet about amounts of land that different agencies manage. Here are some statistics from my trusty America's Federal Lands insert in the National Geographic Magazine from 1982. I've had it up on my wall for years.
The Department of Interior manages about 70 percent of federal land, with the Bureau of Land Management responsible for over 40 percent, and the Fish and Wildlife Service, National Park Service, and Bureau of Indian Affairs each managing about 10 percent. The Department of Agriculture oversees about 25 percent of public lands via the U.S. Forest Service. And finally, the Department of Defense holds the reins for about three percent of federal lands, while the remainder is an unspecified 'other'.
The map above also makes it obvious that the bulk of the federally owned land is in the western United States. Considering the pattern of settlement in the U.S., this makes sense. Now something that doesn't make quite so much sense, at least in the terms of where private land is available: where the population is growing in the U.S. The map below (found at this website) shows which states are growing the most in darker shades of blue (again, click on the map to see it larger).
The number one state for population growth between 1990 and 2005? Why Nevada is number 1 again!
Here are the top five states gaining population:
1. Nevada - 101%
2. Arizona -62%
3. Utah -43%
4. Idaho -42%
5. Colorado -42%
Three states are in both lists, Nevada, Utah, and Idaho. Why are people moving to states that have so little private land? Perhaps those large swaths of public land are part of the appeal--plenty of space to go and play. Maybe North Dakota, the only state with a negative growth rate, just needs to make more of its land revert to federal management and they will see large population growth. Okay, that's not likely to happen anytime soon, but perhaps Nevada can find some other ways to be number one.