The Government Owns Over 623 Million Acres. Why Does It Need More?

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Insa­tiable ­– that would seem to be the word that best describes the appetite of some in Con­gress and their friends in the envi­ron­men­tal community.

Con­gress has added over 450 pages to the defense autho­riza­tion bill to des­ig­nate wilder­ness, cre­ate new parks, des­ig­nate Wild and Scenic Rivers and fund Nation­al Her­itage areas – things that have noth­ing to do with nation­al defense.

Yet for some, even this enor­mous help­ing of green pork is not enough. Sev­er­al mem­bers of the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives are push­ing for far more, seek­ing to gift the envi­ron­men­tal com­mu­ni­ty with a reau­tho­riza­tion of the Land and Water Con­ser­va­tion Fund. The LWCF was enact­ed in 1965 to take off­shore ener­gy devel­op­ment rev­enues and use them to buy pri­vate land and turn it into pub­lic parks.


After five decades of fund­ing, the LWCF will expire in 2015. When one exam­ines the scale and scope of fed­er­al lands and fed­er­al envi­ron­men­tal des­ig­na­tions, it is clear there is no longer any need to have a ded­i­cat­ed fund to feed the insa­tiable appetite of Washington.

Between the four largest land­hold­ing agen­cies (the Bureau of Land Man­age­ment, the U.S. For­est Ser­vice, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Ser­vice and the Nation­al Parks Ser­vice) the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment owns over 623 mil­lion acres. To put that in per­spec­tive, it is larg­er than France, Spain, Ger­many, Poland, Italy, the Unit­ed King­dom, Aus­tria, Switzer­land and the Nether­lands com­bined. The Nation­al Park Ser­vice – the small­est of the four major fed­er­al land­hold­ers – has in its portfolio:

$2,750,000,000 annu­al budget
84,000,000 acres of land
4,502,644 acres of oceans, lakes, reservoirs
85,049 miles of peren­ni­al rivers and streams
68,561 arche­o­log­i­cal sites
27,000 his­toric structures
2,461 nation­al his­toric landmarks
582 nation­al nat­ur­al landmarks
401 nation­al parks
49 nation­al her­itage areas

Unsur­pris­ing­ly, the Depart­ment of Inte­ri­or, under which the NPS falls, has a huge main­te­nance back­log of between $13.5 bil­lion and $20 bil­lion for the land it already owns. In oth­er words, NPS can’t man­age what it already has.

So the ques­tion is: Do we real­ly need a per­ma­nent pot of mon­ey to con­tin­u­al­ly expand the fed­er­al foot­print? If you are unsure as to the answer, below is more infor­ma­tion about the immense hold­ings of oth­er fed­er­al agen­cies. And, one should bear in mind that this does not include near­ly 200 mil­lion acres of state owned lands. More impor­tant­ly, this does not con­tem­plate the fed­er­al envi­ron­men­tal reg­u­la­to­ry net cast over tens of mil­lions of acres of pri­vate lands through laws like the Endan­gered Species Act and the Clean Water Act’s wet­lands regulation.

The coali­tion pro­mot­ing the LWCF states that “…the pro­gram has been chron­i­cal­ly under­fund­ed lead­ing to a num­ber of missed oppor­tu­ni­ties for invest­ing in impor­tant areas. Now, a broad-based coali­tion of con­ser­va­tion, recre­ation, envi­ron­ment, busi­ness, his­toric and cul­tur­al orga­ni­za­tions as well as many oth­ers are work­ing togeth­er to secure full and ded­i­cat­ed fund­ing of the LWCF. At the con­gres­sion­al­ly autho­rized lev­el of $900 mil­lion annually…”

At time when we have $18 tril­lion in debt and 623 mil­lion acres already under fed­er­al con­trol, hav­ing a spe­cial $900 mil­lion annu­al fund ded­i­cat­ed to pur­chas­ing yet more land is unnecessary.

We need less, not more, fed­er­al land. If there is any par­tic­u­lar area law­mak­ers decide must be set aside, Con­gress can appro­pri­ate mon­ey for that pur­pose, just as it appro­pri­ates mon­ey for the mil­i­tary, vet­er­ans and oth­er con­cerns more impor­tant than grow­ing the vast fed­er­al estate.

The Land and Water Con­ser­va­tion Fund is done. It is time to stick a fork in it.

US Fish and Wildlife Service

150 mil­lion acres of land and water

560 nation­al wildlife refuges

38 wet­land man­age­ment districts

Nation­al Ocean Atmos­pher­ic Administration

170,000 square miles of marine and Great Lakes waters

13 nation­al marine sanctuaries

1 marine nation­al monument

US For­est Service

193,000,000 acres

154 nation­al forests

20 grass­lands encompassing

439 wilder­ness areas total­ing over 36 mil­lion acres of land

20 nation­al recre­ation areas

6 nation­al scenic areas

6 nation­al mon­u­ment areas

2 nation­al vol­canic mon­u­ment areas

2 nation­al his­toric areas

Bureau of Land Management

245 mil­lion sur­face acres

700 mil­lion acres of sub-sur­face min­er­al estate

221 Wilder­ness Areas total­ing 8.7 mil­lion acres

16 Nation­al Mon­u­ments com­pris­ing 4.8 mil­lion acres