PERC Report on Federal Lands Mismanagement


The Property and Environmental Research Center has released a report entitled "Divided Lands: State vs. Federal Management in the West." 


"Nearly half of the western United States is owned by the federal government. In recent years, several western states have considered resolutions demanding that the federal government transfer much of this land to state ownership. These efforts are motivated by concerns over federal land management, including restrictions on natural resources development, poor land stewardship, limitations on access, and low financial returns.

"This study compares state and federal land management in the West. It examines the revenues and expenditures associated with federal land management and compares them with state trust land management in four western states: Montana, Idaho, New Mexico, and Arizona. The report explains why revenues and expenditures differ between state and federal land agencies and discusses several possible implications of transferring federal lands to the states."

Key Points:

  • The federal government loses money managing  valuable natural resources on federal lands, while states generate significant financial returns from state trust lands.

  • The states examined in this study earn an average of $14.51 for every dollar spent on state trust land management. The U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management generate only 73 cents in return for every dollar spent on federal land management.

  • On average, states generate more revenue per dollar spent than the federal government on a variety of land management activities, including timber, grazing, minerals, and recreation.

  • These outcomes are the result of the different statutory, regulatory, and administrative frameworks that govern state and federal lands. States have a fiduciary responsibility to generate revenues from state trust lands, while federal land agencies face overlapping and conflicting regulations and often lack a clear mandate.

  • If federal lands were transferred, states could likely earn much greater revenues than the federal government. However, transfer proponents must consider how land management would have to change in order to generate those revenues under state control.

 The entire report can be downloaded here.

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