The United States of America is unique in the world for its vast system of federal public lands, which make up more than a quarter of the country’s land area. Those federal lands, mostly concentrated in the 11 westernmost states and Alaska, span everything from rivers and canyons to sagebrush steppe and alpine peaks. They include protected national parks and monuments as well as productive energy fields and expansive rangelands. They host fish and wildlife habitat, timber production, the watersheds that supply our cities, and an ever-expanding range of recreational experiences.

Federal lands are a source of both experiences and resources. In 2017, companies paid more than $6.9 billion for resources extracted from federal lands, mostly oil and gas. That money goes to the states and American Indian tribes; to the General Treasury; to the Reclamation, Land and Water Conservation, and Historic Preservation Funds; and elsewhere.

Here’s a breakdown of our federal public lands for reference as you read the rest of this issue.

Federal Lands Infographic - for text equivalent, see chart below

Department US Dept. of Agriculture Department of Interior
Agency US Forest Service Bureau of Land Management US Fish and Wildlife Service National Park Service Bureau of Reclamation
Year est. 1905 1946 1940 1916 1902
Acres 193 million 248 million (700 million subsurface) 856 million (some jointly managed)

19 million in the continental US and Hawaii

77 million in Alaska

760 million in American territories/islands in the Atlantic and Pacific

84 million 6.57 million
2018 budget $4.7 billion $1.1 billion $2.8 billion $2.6 billion $1.1 billion
Mission To sustain the health, diversity, and productivity of the nation’s forests and grasslands to meet the needs of present and future generations To sustain the health, diversity and productivity of the public lands for the use and enjoyment of present and future generations To work with other to conserve, protect and enhance fish, wildlife, and plants and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people To preserve unimpaired the natural and cultural resources and values of the National Park System for the enjoyment, education, and inspiration of this and future generations To manage, develop, and protect water and related resources in an environmentally and economically sound manner in the interest of the American public
Uses Forest research, management, and products

Forest and watershed restoration

Minerals management

Wildlife, rare plants, and native vegetation habitat

Livestock grazing


Wildland firefighting

Outdoor recreation

Livestock grazing

Mineral development

Energy production

Hunting and fishing

Protecting cultural, historic, and natural resources

Protecting endangered species, migratory birds, and fish

Protecting wetlands

Hunting, fishing, birdwatching, and other recreation


Protecting cultural, natural, and historic resources

Protecting wildlife

Outdoor recreation

Historic preservation

Providing water

Hydroelectric power

Units 154 national forests

20 grasslands

10 percent of US lands and 30 percent of US minerals

National conservation lands including:

27 national monuments

21 national conservation areas

223 wilderness areas

560 national wildlife refuges

70 national fish hatcheries

More than 36,000 waterfowl production areas

86 field stations

Over 400 units including national parks, national monuments, historic sites, lakeshores, battlefields, and scenic rivers 338 reservoirs

600+ dams constructed

53 power plants

289 recreation sites (with partners)

558 campgrounds

Location 43 states and Puerto Rico Mostly western US and Alaska 50 states and territories 50 states and territories 17 states
Employees 30,000 10,000 9,000 Over 20,000 Over 5,400

By Kristen Pope and Emilene Ostlind


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