Nearly 50 percent of all lands in the Western United States are owned by the federal government, according to the American Lands Council (ALC). This totals 640 million acres. Nevada alone has all but a small amount of land under federal ownership. That pales in comparison to the Eastern United States, in which only less than five-percent of land is under federal ownership. This means that all taxpayers are stuck with paying the bill for the Bureau of Land Management to maintain these lands.
Thus far, 2015 has been one of the worst years in American history for wildfires in the West. More than eight million acres of land were burned in California, Idaho, Montana, Oregon, and Washington. The U.S. Forest Service has already spent more than $200 million a week to contain these fires. The American Lands Council argued in a recent research brief that land management costs can be lowered if the national government transfers ownership to states willing to maintain it.
Research data obtained by the ALC from the Property and Environment Research Center found that the federal government loses 27 cents on every dollar that it spends for land management. The same data found states generate an average of $14.51 for every dollar they spend on managing lands.
Sarah Curry of the John Locke Foundation recently talked about why the overreach of the federal government is harmful for U.S. taxpayers during Americans for Prosperity’s Defending the American Dream Summit on August 21st in Columbus, Ohio. Curry said, “The problem comes from the forests and the Bureau of Land Management.”
Curry expressed concern that in the State of Nevada many counties are not able to collect property taxes on federally owned lands. This means counties lose out on money to fund vital services, such as local fire departments, that could be more responsive to controlling wildfires.
The U.S. Senate approved an amendment by a 51–49 vote in March to allow states to seize and sell lands owned by the federal government. The amendment was included in the budget resolution considered by the Senate. U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) sponsored the amendment.