Taking our public lands: what about donated lands?

If states grab federal lands, what happens to donated private lands?

What do the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, the Nature Conservancy, Trust for Public Land, and hundreds of other organizations have in common? Their gifts of acquired private land given to the federal government would be at risk if states got hold of the national forests, BLM lands, and other public lands.

All told, several million acres of land is at risk. These lands are not general purpose public lands. Almost all were acquired for specific reasons, such as being prime wildlife or fish habitat or purchased to secure public access to existing federal lands. Many were purchased to save them from real estate and other developments.

Many of these parcels that were acquired and then donated to or purchased by the federal government have reversion clauses in them. These would return the lands if the government was trying to sell or give them away. Unfortunately, this is not a solution in many cases because the original acquisition was made to a joint effort with the government to accomplish some management purpose. Isolated and alone, they would be much less important and/or impossible to protect and manage privately.

From the state legislative studies of land transfer to the states, we see little discussion of the fate of these lands, and not much evidence that the proponents of transfer even perceive they exist.

A current example of the significance of land trust actions and federal lands is this.

The Nature Conservancy late last month closed an $85 million deal for 117,152 acres along the Blackfoot River, building on nearly a decade and a half of work securing long-term protections for parcels formerly held by Plum Creek Timber. Wildland advocates, sportsmen and elected officials hailed the purchase as a boon for conservation, public access and economic opportunity. But those same voices have grown increasingly concerned that a political movement gaining momentum throughout the West could result in a major backslide for public land ownership. Rest of the story in the Missoula Independent, http://tinyurl.com/kka626m.


  1. Garry Rogers Avatar

    Developers sometimes win because of their unrelenting desire for the profits they can make selling and building on public land. Most past attempts to privatize public land have failed. However, they keep trying. States would let developers cherry-pick the best parts and abandon the rest to livestock, fire, and weeds. Thanks for writing about this.


Dr. Ralph Maughan is professor emeritus of political science at Idaho State University. He was a Western Watersheds Project Board Member off and on for many years, and was also its President for several years. For a long time he produced Ralph Maughan’s Wolf Report. He was a founder of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition. He and Jackie Johnson Maughan wrote three editions of “Hiking Idaho.” He also wrote “Beyond the Tetons” and “Backpacking Wyoming’s Teton and Washakie Wilderness.” He created and is the administrator of The Wildlife News.

Subscribe to get new posts right in your Inbox

Ralph Maughan