Sunday, February 20, 2011

Uncle Sam – the Biggest Landlord

Did you know that your favorite uncle is quite the property owner?  I’m sure most folks knew the government owned some land: Yellowstone National Park, Yosemite, and the Rocky Mountains (not all of them) come to mind.  However, I was shocked to learn just how much land the government has in its portfolio.

Care to wager a guess at how many acres the federal government owns and controls?  100 million?  Half a billion?  Try 630 million acres.  This makes Donald Trump look like small potatoes. Interestingly, much of the land owned by the feds is situated in the West, where abundant stocks of natural gas and oil are found.  For example, the federal government owns about 75% of Alaska.  Additionally, they own about 80% of Nevada, half of Oregon and a third of Colorado.  In total, the federal government owns about 30% of the land mass of the United Sates.  (Source: 

A question that comes to mind is: why does the federal government own so much land and what exactly is it doing (and not doing) with this resource?  It costs taxpayers millions for the feds to maintain the land.  Sure, some of the land generates funds, such as national parks and the selling of mineral rights, but this pales in comparison to what the land could generate if left to private ownership.

The federal government isn’t known for employing the best land management practices.  Think of wild fires that burn hundreds of thousands of acres each year, or potentially vast oil and gas deposits that are banned from production.  This is a direct cost to our economy. 
I would argue that only land in private hands can be effectively and efficiently managed.  Government owned land is very often subject to the political whims of elected officials, and is grossly mismanaged by a bureaucracy whose main goal is their own job preservation. 
Now, some may say that big corporations would only strip and pollute the lands, and that the government is preserving the land for our posterity, but know this: the US Government is one of the country’s biggest and nastiest polluters.  Many current and former military installations are superfund sites as is the most heavily polluted and contaminated site in the US – Hanford, WA.

I say Uncle Sam needs to return much of this land to the private sector.  We should allow entrepreneurs the chance to utilize effectively these lands for their best and highest use.  Hundreds of thousands of jobs are awaiting the chance should Uncle Sam decide to become a much smaller landlord.

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