Federal lands in the West: liability or asset?

This update of research from last year finds that from the early 1970s to the early 2010s, population, employment, and personal income on average all grew significantly faster—two times faster or more—in western rural counties with the highest share of federal lands compared to counties with the lowest share of federal lands. Per capita income growth was slightly higher in counties with more federal land.

While there are exceptions to these findings–some places with little federal land are performing well and some places with significant federal land are struggling–they demonstrate significant trends across the rural West.

The study reviews the 276 non-metro counties in the 11 contiguous western states: Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming. The counties were broken into quartile groups by share of federal land for analysis.



  1. James D. Arney says:

    Changes in economic health over time should not be limited to high versus low federal ownership counties only. It should be compared to economic trends in all counties and regions. Why else are we experiencing rural counties in the west going toward bankruptcy? This is not a useful analysis, it is too narrow in scope…

  2. Larry Hicks says:

    Terrible article a classic case of “statistics don’t lie- lairs use statistics”. Comparing a county with a national park compared to one made up of all rangelands agriculture is not a fare comparison. Apples and Oranges for sure.

    Also the economics I am sure did not look at the cost to the public to manage those lands. In 2014 dollars alone the FS cost tax payers $44 billion. National Parks also loose money every year and do not generate enough revenue to pay for cost of management.

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