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  #1  
Old 04-13-2014, 04:56 PM
aceplace57 aceplace57 is offline
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How did the Federal Gov. gain control of public lands? (The BLM)

I've wondered about this for quite awhile and it was never explained in my history classes. At the beginning we had US territories. Settlers were invited to come and stake claims to homesteads. There were Federal laws known as the homestead acts. There were territorial legislatures and territorial governors. The last one, Gov Mike Stepovich from Alaska died recently. Gradually the territories were granted statehood. Alaska was the next to last one last one in Jan 1959. Hawaii was admitted in Aug, 1959.

A semesters history course in one paragraph. So, why wasn't control of the land within the state fully transferred? The states that obtained statehood after the Civil War seem to have much more Federally controlled land. AFAIK the BLM doesn't control any significant areas of land in the Eastern states or even much of the South. It seems to primarily effect the Western states.

I've read its been a burdon for Alaska. They were granted statehood but they've had tremendous problems developing it into a modern industrialized state. The resources and much of the land is controlled by the Feds. They are constantly being blocked from developing the state.

The BLM is also at the center of a controversy with a Nevada rancher. There are threads on that elsewhere. Thats not a GQ topic.

What puzzles me is the mind set. Yes, today big gov is popular and I can see the Feds keeping control. But back in 1870-1899 I wouldn't have expected that mindset. Why wasn't the land inside a state given to them? Just like it was in the Eastern and Southern states? Even in the Midwest states isn't nearly all the empty land state land?

Last edited by aceplace57; 04-13-2014 at 05:01 PM..
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  #2  
Old 04-13-2014, 05:17 PM
aceplace57 aceplace57 is offline
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This is just amazing. They were granted statehood in 1864 but Nevada only controls 14% of the land. How was this justified and how did it happen? I haven't seen figures for Alaska, but I suspect Fed land is a high percentage there too.

Its not surprising why most of Nevada is not populated. Its Federal controlled land.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nevada
Quote:
Nevada is largely desert and semiarid, with much of it located within the Great Basin. Areas south of the Great Basin are located within the Mojave Desert, while Lake Tahoe and the Sierra Nevada lie on the western edge. Approximately 86% of the state's land is owned by various jurisdictions of the U.S. federal government, both civilian and military.
Quote:
Nevada is the 7th most extensive, the 35th most populous, and the 9th least densely populated of the 50 United States.

Last edited by aceplace57; 04-13-2014 at 05:21 PM..
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  #3  
Old 04-13-2014, 05:21 PM
Rick Kitchen Rick Kitchen is offline
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the right wingers whose heads are exploding and their buddy Mr. Bundy might want to read some history. The requirement that cattle grazers pay fees to the BLM for the use of federal lands was established by an Executive Order issued by rightie hero Ronald Reagan.
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  #4  
Old 04-13-2014, 05:25 PM
aceplace57 aceplace57 is offline
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I started this GQ thread to learn how any why the Western states land ownership was retained by the Federal gov. Completely different from how the Eastern and Southern states were formed. I don't know the exact figure, but it seems like the first 35 states were given control of the land within their borders. Nevada was the 36th state. I think the BLM has land in all the states admitted later.

The Bundy debate is for the other forums.

Last edited by aceplace57; 04-13-2014 at 05:30 PM..
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  #5  
Old 04-13-2014, 05:37 PM
chacoguy chacoguy is offline
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Wiki article.

BLM lands are essentially all the land that was not claimed under the Homestead act and the Mining act. They weren't 'taken' from anyone. No one wanted them.
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Old 04-13-2014, 05:52 PM
Freddy the Pig Freddy the Pig is offline
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Let us divide the states into groups:

Group I: The original 13, plus states which here hived off directly from them without ever being territories. (VT, KY, TN, WV) There was never any federal "public domain" in these states. The federal government owns land in these states, but only where it bought it for a specific reason--military bases, national parks, federal prisons, federal office buildings, and so forth.

Group II: Other states east of the Mississippi. The original 13 ceded their claims to these territories as a condition of confederation, and both sovereignty and ownership passed to the federal government. However, these states are prime agricultural land, and virtually all of it was bought by private citizens at premium prices.

Group III: States west of the Mississippi, save for AK, HI, and TX. The government originally owned the land in these states because it bought it--via the Louisiana Purchase and the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. The only exceptions were land retained by American Indians and land settled by private citizens under valid title from France, Spain, or Mexico. (These titles were often litigated and held invalid.)

In the Midwest, again, this was prime agricultural land, and almost all of it was eventually homesteaded, sold, or granted to railroads and resold. States were usually granted small amounts of land upon statehood, or to sell and fund state universities under the Morrill Act.

In the far West, land was completely unsuitable for homesteading. The federal government usually leased land for ranching or prospecting, instead of selling it or giving it away. Then, too, there are many national parks and monuments in the West. So, the feds retain much of the land even today.

Group IV: Texas. Because Texas was an independent republic for nine years, it negotiated better terms for itself upon annexation in 1845. Texas was allowed to retain its public domain land, so again, the federal government owns nothing except what it bought at specific times for specific purposes.

Group V: Alaska. Alaska was given much of its public domain, but not all, and Congress attempted to treat the natives more fairly and they were awarded ownership of large tracts of land. But Alaska is huge so the feds still own a lot there.

Group VI: Hawaii. Much of Hawaii was privately owned before the US gained sovereignty. I don't know much about Hawaii land ownership.
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Old 04-13-2014, 05:52 PM
aceplace57 aceplace57 is offline
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I understand much of the BLM land is either desert or wilderness areas. But, normally when borders are established for a country or a state; control of the land is transferred too. It might be a inhabitable mountain range in West Virginia, but its still in their jurisdiction.

There are exceptions. Military Bases inside a state are Federal Reservations. Arkansas has some military proving grounds that were used for weapons development in WWII. Its understandable why those areas are Federally controlled.

It's an interesting subject. I wish the college history classes would have covered this in detail. The homestead acts and Oklahoma land rush were maybe two weeks of the semester long course. Maybe six lectures total?

Last edited by aceplace57; 04-13-2014 at 05:57 PM..
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Old 04-13-2014, 05:56 PM
Little Nemo Little Nemo is offline
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The basic principle is that the Native Americans didn't own the land because they weren't using it the way Europeans considered valid. So land in America was unowned and available for anyone to come along and claim it. (Obviously this was a theory developed by Europeans.)

So the land's original owner, according to Western law, was the European nation which first landed there. From there, the European country could bring in settlers and give/sell them land which they would then own as their personal property (albeit while still be subject to the laws of the European country.) And if a territory was transferred from the control of one European power to another, the private property ownership of the settlers remained in force.

The territory in the eastern and southern states (and some of the southwest) was settled when Europeans were still in charge so most of that land had passed on to private ownership when the United States was founded and began expanding. But eventually the United States acquired territory that hadn't been settled while under European control. So the United States was in charge while this land was first settled on to private owners. (Once again, keep in mind the Native Americans weren't consider to be valid property owners.)

The western states don't have much public land because they were formed out of the settlement of these lands. The national government owned the land, settlers moved in and acquired ownership, and then a state was formed when the population reached a certain level. It wasn't like the national government created a government of Montana and then told them to fill up the land they were in charge of. Montana didn't exist until it was already settled. (The exception was Texas, which existed as a nation before becoming part of the United States.)
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Old 04-13-2014, 06:11 PM
ftg ftg is offline
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Originally Posted by aceplace57 View Post
Its not surprising why most of Nevada is not populated. Its Federal controlled land.
Statements like this are just ... off.

Nevada has a lot of privately owned land that is just sitting there, not really developed. A lot. The Federal stuff, on average is worse than that. There is absolutely no impediment to development in places like Alaska and Nevada in terms of BLM and similar land. National parks and such are another thing, as they should be.

Note that leasing/using Federal land is a huge boon to private companies. E.g., a mining company can start up a mine on Federal land for virtually nothing and pays squat for the extraction. And when done, they just walk away. Don't have to worry about clean up and restoration. That is one sweet deal.

Compare that to actually buying land, or buying mineral rights from private entities.

Timber leases are also a good deal. They get the cutting rights for an unbelievably low price and when done, just walk away. Immensely cheaper (for them) than private timberland ownership.

One of the shocking aspects of this is the money spent by the Feds on building access roads and such is frequently higher than the money they get from timber rights. I.e., if they left the land alone, the taxpayers would be better off. That doesn't happen with private land.

Grazing rights on BLM are another sweet deal. Very cheap, can overgraze and damage the land, etc. Much better than owning the land. Don't really have to bid competitively (in practice). Hence families grazing on the same land for 100+ years.

The US government loses untold billions on these arrangements. The money goes into the pockets of companies and individuals who don't want to lose this. (Hence the issue in the news.)

Last edited by ftg; 04-13-2014 at 06:12 PM..
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Old 04-13-2014, 07:31 PM
aceplace57 aceplace57 is offline
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Nice summary Freddy. That helps visualize how statehood evolved over time. Heres some history on Hawaii. It was the independent Republic of Hawaii for awhile before becoming a territory. That may explain why the Feds didn't get their land. Similar situation as Texas.

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Originally Posted by Freddy the Pig View Post
Let us divide the states into groups:

Group I: The original 13, plus states which here hived off directly from them without ever being territories. (VT, KY, TN, WV) There was never any federal "public domain" in these states. The federal government owns land in these states, but only where it bought it for a specific reason--military bases, national parks, federal prisons, federal office buildings, and so forth.

Group II: Other states east of the Mississippi. The original 13 ceded their claims to these territories as a condition of confederation, and both sovereignty and ownership passed to the federal government. However, these states are prime agricultural land, and virtually all of it was bought by private citizens at premium prices.

Group III: States west of the Mississippi, save for AK, HI, and TX. The government originally owned the land in these states because it bought it--via the Louisiana Purchase and the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. The only exceptions were land retained by American Indians and land settled by private citizens under valid title from France, Spain, or Mexico. (These titles were often litigated and held invalid.)

In the Midwest, again, this was prime agricultural land, and almost all of it was eventually homesteaded, sold, or granted to railroads and resold. States were usually granted small amounts of land upon statehood, or to sell and fund state universities under the Morrill Act.

In the far West, land was completely unsuitable for homesteading. The federal government usually leased land for ranching or prospecting, instead of selling it or giving it away. Then, too, there are many national parks and monuments in the West. So, the feds retain much of the land even today.

Group IV: Texas. Because Texas was an independent republic for nine years, it negotiated better terms for itself upon annexation in 1845. Texas was allowed to retain its public domain land, so again, the federal government owns nothing except what it bought at specific times for specific purposes.

Group V: Alaska. Alaska was given much of its public domain, but not all, and Congress attempted to treat the natives more fairly and they were awarded ownership of large tracts of land. But Alaska is huge so the feds still own a lot there.

Group VI: Hawaii. Much of Hawaii was privately owned before the US gained sovereignty. I don't know much about Hawaii land ownership.

Last edited by aceplace57; 04-13-2014 at 07:34 PM..
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  #11  
Old 04-13-2014, 08:44 PM
Chronos Chronos is offline
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Quote:
Quoth aceplace57:

I understand much of the BLM land is either desert or wilderness areas. But, normally when borders are established for a country or a state; control of the land is transferred too.
Isn't it the whole point of this thread that that isn't what normally happens?
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Old 04-13-2014, 08:58 PM
ThisUsernameIsForbidden ThisUsernameIsForbidden is offline
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Originally Posted by chacoguy View Post
Wiki article.

BLM lands are essentially all the land that was not claimed under the Homestead act and the Mining act. They weren't 'taken' from anyone. No one wanted them.
I'd bet that today, if we were to reinstate the Home Act, there would be takers. I would love to have me some land.
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Old 04-13-2014, 09:06 PM
aceplace57 aceplace57 is offline
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From what I've read the first 35 states have control of most of the empty/public lands within their borders. Nevada the 36th state is the first one that I know of where that changed.

Kansas and West Virginia were the 34th and 35th states and I'm not aware of any large areas of Fed land there.

It seems that only 14 states out of 50 entered statehood with large parts of their public land under Fed control. I'm not saying that is good or bad. It is a different situation from what most Americans experience.

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Originally Posted by Chronos View Post
Isn't it the whole point of this thread that that isn't what normally happens?

Last edited by aceplace57; 04-13-2014 at 09:09 PM..
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  #14  
Old 04-13-2014, 09:23 PM
dofe dofe is offline
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Aceplace, have you been to Nevada? Outside of Vegas, there's little land (not already taken) that most people could ever want to live on. I recently went on vacation in a fairly remote resort in Southern Utah, requiring a four hour drive from Las Vegas. Most of what I saw until leaving Nevada was desert-type land. In the days of the Homestead Act, before large scale water management and federal highways, the place was likely even less appealing to the average homesteader. Why stay there when you could always seek better land elsewhere (or just continue west until you hit California!). There's a reason why the BLM retained control of most of the land. Nobody wanted it!
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Old 04-13-2014, 09:31 PM
aceplace57 aceplace57 is offline
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I see your point its public land that no one wants. It could have been administered under a state controlled land management agency that functioned much like the BLM. Maybe the states didn't want the cost or headaches of doing that when they were granted statehood?

I see the point that back in 1864 no one thought it mattered who controlled the desert.

It would be interesting to research what did happen when Nevada's early citizens submitted their application for statehood. Was control of the public land even a negotiated issue? The US may have just kept it by default.

Last edited by aceplace57; 04-13-2014 at 09:34 PM..
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Old 04-13-2014, 09:44 PM
nevadaexile nevadaexile is offline
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Originally Posted by aceplace57 View Post
This is just amazing. They were granted statehood in 1864 but Nevada only controls 14% of the land. How was this justified and how did it happen? I haven't seen figures for Alaska, but I suspect Fed land is a high percentage there too.

Its not surprising why most of Nevada is not populated. Its Federal controlled land.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nevada
Ahhh....no.

Most of Nevada is not populated because most of the state will not easily support human life. Where there is water in Nevada, there are either cities, towns or some form of settlement. Unfortunately, that's not the majority of the state.

Nobody wanted most of the land in Nevada because is was either unforgiving desert or steep and mountainous terrain. Even the Native Americans were clustered around the limited available water prior to their ethnic cleansing by White settlers.

That's why the US government owns so much of the state.
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Old 04-13-2014, 09:50 PM
GreasyJack GreasyJack is offline
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I'd bet that today, if we were to reinstate the Home Act, there would be takers. I would love to have me some land.
The Homestead Act didn't just give out free land willy-nilly. You had to actually live on it and "make improvements" which usually meant farm it. The law actually stayed on the books (IIRC) until sometime in the 1970's but in reality the last of the even marginally farmable land was homesteaded in the 1920's. More to the point, though, the small single family farms that the whole homesteading concept is based on were only ever really good for providing slightly more than very basic subsistence, even on good land.

So even if there still were some halfway decent land left, I doubt there'd be many takers. There is, however, all sorts of worthless desert acreage in private hands that can be had for cheap if you simply must join the landowning class.
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Old 04-14-2014, 07:00 AM
JKellyMap JKellyMap is offline
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Informative thread -- thanks to all.

I'm interested on hearing more about what aceplace noticed: that sometime after the settlement of Kansas, for leftover public land after homesteading, emphasis shifted from state ownership to federal ownership.

Perhaps due to the Civil War increasing the practical power of the federal government, especially to keep states in check? Or maybe because the thinner settlement of the desert West made for a smaller tax base, so state governments preferred to not have to manage large tracts?

Last edited by JKellyMap; 04-14-2014 at 07:01 AM..
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Old 04-14-2014, 07:16 AM
njtt njtt is online now
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Originally Posted by aceplace57 View Post
Its not surprising why most of Nevada is not populated. Its Federal controlled land.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nevada


Did you, like, read the bit from Wikipedia that you quoted? Do you seriously believe that the reason that Nevada and Alaska are not densely populated hives of industry like the east coast states is because the federal government (which has such a big interest in depressing American industry, right?) is hogging more of their land?

Wow. Just wow! That's breathtaking.
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Old 04-14-2014, 07:38 AM
ftg ftg is offline
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The Homestead Act didn't just give out free land willy-nilly. You had to actually live on it and "make improvements" which usually meant farm it. The law actually stayed on the books (IIRC) until sometime in the 1970's but in reality the last of the even marginally farmable land was homesteaded in the 1920's. More to the point, though, the small single family farms that the whole homesteading concept is based on were only ever really good for providing slightly more than very basic subsistence, even on good land.
Here's the summary of the wind-down of the system. Hardly any land was suitable for homesteading in the lower 48 after the 30s. But Alaska was still being homesteaded thru the 70s.

There were many mistakes made in being overgenerous with homesteading. E.g., in large parts of the Dakotas and the Intermountain West, people would settle down, farm for a few years, get by for a bit, and then some bad years and they'd lose it all. Those lands ended up as grazing land as they should have been.

And western Nebraska was very badly managed.

The government wasn't trying to keep land out of people's hands. Quite the opposite. They allowed too much to be available and it hurt people.

Note that there were other systems similar to homesteading. E.g., both sets of my grandparents got land that was to be newly irrigated thanks to a program for WWI vets. Went from sagebrush to lush green farms in a decade. A lot of tales like that: the government helping people to settle and own former government land. When practical.

Emphasis on the "practical".
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Old 04-14-2014, 07:48 AM
md2000 md2000 is offline
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Originally Posted by GreasyJack View Post
The Homestead Act didn't just give out free land willy-nilly. You had to actually live on it and "make improvements" which usually meant farm it. The law actually stayed on the books (IIRC) until sometime in the 1970's but in reality the last of the even marginally farmable land was homesteaded in the 1920's. More to the point, though, the small single family farms that the whole homesteading concept is based on were only ever really good for providing slightly more than very basic subsistence, even on good land.

So even if there still were some halfway decent land left, I doubt there'd be many takers. There is, however, all sorts of worthless desert acreage in private hands that can be had for cheap if you simply must join the landowning class.
I believe that's the whole point of this dispute. There's not enough rain/wellwater/good soil to sustain farming; but like many deserts, some of it's enough to grow clumps of grass here and there. So this makes it cheap grazing land, provided it's not overgrazed.

However, the ranchers don't need to own the land to graze on it, the arrangement was more open. There were wide areas where everyone shared the land, and if you rotate the herds and limit their size, it doesn't stress the land. From what I read on the news, it sounds like a number of ranchers let their cattle graze, and the BLM has to check brands to see if they're getting the cattle that aren't being paid for.

Plus, the amount of land offered under the homestead act was for normal farms, not for grazing large herds on marginal lands.

So grazing use did not fall into the "improvement" category enough to take ownership of the land, and paying a fee or sharing a right to use vast otherwise unused land was sufficient for the locals and the feds until recently.

And as others have pointed out, unlike other areas of the USA, the federal government "owned" all the land in the west thanks to taking ownership (Louisiana Purchase et al) before the states were created, rather than after.
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Old 04-14-2014, 07:53 AM
GreasyJack GreasyJack is offline
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Originally Posted by JKellyMap View Post
Informative thread -- thanks to all.

I'm interested on hearing more about what aceplace noticed: that sometime after the settlement of Kansas, for leftover public land after homesteading, emphasis shifted from state ownership to federal ownership.

Perhaps due to the Civil War increasing the practical power of the federal government, especially to keep states in check? Or maybe because the thinner settlement of the desert West made for a smaller tax base, so state governments preferred to not have to manage large tracts?
Like Freddy the Pig said, the agricultural land in those states was good enough that there weren't huge swaths of leftover land. If there had been, the federal government would have owned it, just like in the western states.
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Old 04-14-2014, 08:02 AM
Saint Cad Saint Cad is offline
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I've been looking through the thread and I still don't see the answer to the OP. Why didn't the Federal government turn ownership of that land over to the state. We've answered why it wasn't Homesteaded but why didn't the Feds give up their land to the State of Nevada when it was formed and instead retained ownership.
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Old 04-14-2014, 08:21 AM
JKellyMap JKellyMap is offline
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State ownership vs. fed ownership of land is in this table.

Kansas: 0.3% owned by feds, 0.6% owned by state.
Nevada: 81% owned by feds, 0.1% owned by state.

So, yes, there is an obvious overall difference (later-admitted, more arid states have much more government land), BUT there is also a fed/state difference (later-admitted, more arid states also have proportionately more FED land, as opposed to STATE land).

I'm thinking my "tax base -- how much land can a state manage" suggestion might be the main reason for this.

Last edited by JKellyMap; 04-14-2014 at 08:21 AM..
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Old 04-14-2014, 08:27 AM
Jonathan Chance Jonathan Chance is online now
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I've been looking through the thread and I still don't see the answer to the OP. Why didn't the Federal government turn ownership of that land over to the state. We've answered why it wasn't Homesteaded but why didn't the Feds give up their land to the State of Nevada when it was formed and instead retained ownership.
I'm not sure you'd find any single answer. It's likely a state-by-state set of reasons. But if I had to venture a guess at the sweet spot:

1. Inertia. Feds run it, what the hell.
2. Cost. States don't want to pick up whatever cost is involved in the transfer/management
3. Economics. What use there IS of the land - timber, mining, grazing, et al - is managed for cheap by the feds. A change to state handling - where states have a greater incentive to make it pay due to the inability to produce more currency themselves - would increase fees and dislocate some sweet deals. Those with the sweet deals would oppose this occurring.
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Old 04-14-2014, 08:29 AM
GreasyJack GreasyJack is offline
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Originally Posted by Saint Cad View Post
I've been looking through the thread and I still don't see the answer to the OP. Why didn't the Federal government turn ownership of that land over to the state. We've answered why it wasn't Homesteaded but why didn't the Feds give up their land to the State of Nevada when it was formed and instead retained ownership.
The short answer is simply that they didn't have any reason to. Keep in mind that statehood usually came very early in the homesteading process. The only thing the newly-formed state governments would have wanted to do with most of the land was get people settled on it, and the federal government was already doing a great job of that. A far better job than a tiny and newly formed state government would have. It wasn't until decades and decades later that anyone really considered that the land would be a permanent government asset requiring management.
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Old 04-14-2014, 08:35 AM
JKellyMap JKellyMap is offline
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Originally Posted by GreasyJack View Post
...It wasn't until decades and decades later that anyone really considered that the land would be a permanent government asset requiring management.
Excellent point. During the formation of most western states, it was more "who can handle the settling/transfer to private ownership of this land best?," not "who can eventually manage the land that will always be public best?".
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Old 04-14-2014, 08:35 AM
GreasyJack GreasyJack is offline
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Originally Posted by JKellyMap View Post
State ownership vs. fed ownership of land is in this table.

Kansas: 0.3% owned by feds, 0.6% owned by state.
Nevada: 81% owned by feds, 0.1% owned by state.

So, yes, there is an obvious overall difference (later-admitted, more arid states have much more government land), BUT there is also a fed/state difference (later-admitted, more arid states also have proportionately more FED land, as opposed to STATE land).

I'm thinking my "tax base -- how much land can a state manage" suggestion might be the main reason for this.
No, the point is that there's NO land in Kansas that's government owned just because nobody wants it. The reason why there's any government-owned land at all in Kansas is because the government needs it for a specific purpose. Obviously the government of the State of Kansas has more need for facilities in Kansas than the federal government and therefore they own more land. It's completely separate situation from talking about who owns all the empty land in a place like Nevada.

Last edited by GreasyJack; 04-14-2014 at 08:36 AM..
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Old 04-14-2014, 08:41 AM
Freddy the Pig Freddy the Pig is offline
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I've been looking through the thread and I still don't see the answer to the OP. Why didn't the Federal government turn ownership of that land over to the state.
Why on earth would they? Land is valuable! The Louisiana Purchase cost more than a year's worth of government spending at the time. The Mexican War and the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo were insanely expensive. Those costs were paid by the feds, by the taxpayers in all the states. Why give up the land to a single state???

Small portions were given over to states, most notably through the Morrill Act for the funding of state universities. But that created a benefit available to all states, not just new ones, and theoretically at least benefited the entire country by raising education levels.
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Old 04-14-2014, 08:53 AM
GreasyJack GreasyJack is offline
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Originally Posted by ftg View Post
Note that there were other systems similar to homesteading. E.g., both sets of my grandparents got land that was to be newly irrigated thanks to a program for WWI vets. Went from sagebrush to lush green farms in a decade. A lot of tales like that: the government helping people to settle and own former government land. When practical.
Yeah, one of the responses of the federal government to the closing of the homestead era was to go on a wild spree of building dams all across the West in the 30's through the 50's to try to create more arable land for folks to settle on. For the most part, these big irrigation projects were total failures, or at least they failed to get more small homesteaders on the land. Sometimes it was due to hydrological or other practical problems, but for the most part the problem was that by that time, and especially after World War II, Americans simply didn't want to be small yeoman farmers anymore. It's a very hard and primitive life by modern standards. Some of the programs at that time offered veterans and others better than free land, with subsidized loans and equipment, but the take rate was still very low.

A lot of those big irrigation projects did help out post-war industrial scale agriculture, and the hydro-power that was originally just supposed to be a fringe benefit turned out to be hugely important in some places. But the West is also littered with completely useless dams that were built because of some lingering attachment to Thomas Jefferson's idea of the country of small farmers.

Last edited by GreasyJack; 04-14-2014 at 08:53 AM..
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Old 04-14-2014, 09:23 AM
Really Not All That Bright Really Not All That Bright is online now
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Originally Posted by Jonathan Chance View Post
I'm not sure you'd find any single answer. It's likely a state-by-state set of reasons. But if I had to venture a guess at the sweet spot:

1. Inertia. Feds run it, what the hell.
2. Cost. States don't want to pick up whatever cost is involved in the transfer/management
3. Economics. What use there IS of the land - timber, mining, grazing, et al - is managed for cheap by the feds. A change to state handling - where states have a greater incentive to make it pay due to the inability to produce more currency themselves - would increase fees and dislocate some sweet deals. Those with the sweet deals would oppose this occurring.
Various states have actually been trying to regain control of federally administered lands for some time (essentially, once the feds had done the hard work of making them useful for grazing).
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Old 04-14-2014, 09:36 AM
JKellyMap JKellyMap is offline
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No, the point is that there's NO land in Kansas that's government owned just because nobody wants it. The reason why there's any government-owned land at all in Kansas is because the government needs it for a specific purpose. Obviously the government of the State of Kansas has more need for facilities in Kansas than the federal government and therefore they own more land. It's completely separate situation from talking about who owns all the empty land in a place like Nevada.
Okay...I think we actually agree on everything, we're just answering slightly different questions. What you say here is certainly true, but I was interested in the decisions that were made from the start -- meaning, starting when each of these states was still a territory, and ALL the land was "federal" (save the odd non-American private inholdings, like those Spanish grant lands around Santa Fe, and of course all of Oklahoma was meant to be Indian land).

In other words, my "how much land can a state manage" is basically synonymous with your "how much land does any one state need."

Last edited by JKellyMap; 04-14-2014 at 09:38 AM..
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Old 04-14-2014, 09:59 AM
Northern Piper Northern Piper is online now
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In Canada, there was a similar pattern. The federal government bought Rupert's Land and the North-Western Territory from the Hudson's Bay Co in 1870. When the three Prairie provinces were created, the federal government kept the land, so it could control western settlement, including financing the CPR and homesteading.

The difference from the US, though, is that once the provinces were established and settled, they began to pressure Ottawa for the land to be turned over to them. It took years of political wrangling and some court cases, but in 1930 the Feds turned over the bulk of the lands to the three provinces, keeping only the land it needed for a clear federal purpose.
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Old 04-14-2014, 10:17 AM
GreasyJack GreasyJack is offline
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Originally Posted by JKellyMap View Post
Okay...I think we actually agree on everything, we're just answering slightly different questions. What you say here is certainly true, but I was interested in the decisions that were made from the start -- meaning, starting when each of these states was still a territory, and ALL the land was "federal" (save the odd non-American private inholdings, like those Spanish grant lands around Santa Fe, and of course all of Oklahoma was meant to be Indian land).

In other words, my "how much land can a state manage" is basically synonymous with your "how much land does any one state need."
I don't think anyone's really saying that the states couldn't handle management of the land if it had been handed over to them. I'm simply disagreeing with your idea that there was a shift sometime around the Civil War from the state governments managing public land to the federal government doing it. That shift did happen, but it happened earlier when the country started moving away from land claimed by the original 13 states. The higher proportion of state-owned lands in Midwestern states versus Western states is simply a reflection of there being less open land for the feds to manage.

(Although somewhat complicating that picture is that the northern Midwestern states do have fairly large state land holdings, but those were generally despoiled timber land that that state acquired for nothing or practically nothing after the logging companies had moved on, not land given directly by the feds for the states to manage.)
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Old 04-14-2014, 10:33 AM
BrainGlutton BrainGlutton is offline
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Its not surprising why most of Nevada is not populated. Its . . .
. . . desert.
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  #36  
Old 04-14-2014, 10:38 AM
Freddy the Pig Freddy the Pig is offline
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I don't think anyone's really saying that the states couldn't handle management of the land if it had been handed over to them. I'm simply disagreeing with your idea that there was a shift sometime around the Civil War from the state governments managing public land to the federal government doing it. That shift did happen, but it happened earlier when the country started moving away from land claimed by the original 13 states.
Yes indeed, the shift happened during the 1780's.

May I emphasize, the argument between state and federal control of the public domain was a huge, huge issue in putting the "United" in "United States". It was the primary reason why it required four years (from 1777 to 1781) to ratify the Articles of Confederation.

Some of the Original 13 had extensive claims in the West (then defined as the region between the Appalachians and the Mississippi), and some didn't. If allowed to stand, these claims would exacerbate the existing differences in size and wealth among the states.

The non-endowed Original 13 argued that these claims should be ceded to the federal government, which would (a) strengthen the Union by giving the country a common interest in the West; (b) eliminate overlapping state claims; and (c) give the federal government a source of revenue. Maryland refused to ratify the Articles until all the states agreed in principle to cede their trans-Appalachian claims. (Moving from principle to practice required another 30 years.)

The Confederation Congress then passed the Northwest Ordinance to survey and eventually sell the northern part of the new federal domain. This was one of the most important laws in American history. Among other things it banned slavery in the new territory.

It occurred too late the solve the Confederation's financial problems; that requied a new Constitution with federal taxation. But the principle of federal control of the territorial domain had been established.
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Old 04-14-2014, 10:48 AM
sitchensis sitchensis is offline
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Prior to the National Environmental Policy Act and the Endangered Species Act and any number of other laws and interpretations of laws that have hamstrung the agencies, the federal government was pretty good at managing land at the local level. The States trusted that the feds would act the same way in the future and it didn’t work out.
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Old 04-14-2014, 03:03 PM
slash2k slash2k is offline
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Originally Posted by JKellyMap View Post
Informative thread -- thanks to all.

I'm interested on hearing more about what aceplace noticed: that sometime after the settlement of Kansas, for leftover public land after homesteading, emphasis shifted from state ownership to federal ownership.
Actually, this is a false perception. When Kansas became a state in 1861, the feds did own most of the state, and they did NOT turn it over to the new state government.

What did happen was that the federal government operated land offices through the state, where settlers could buy land or claim it through the Homestead Act (and the feds also turned over vast swathes to the transcontinental railroads, who in turn had their own land offices). In the 1870s and 80s, huge portions of Kansas transferred directly from the feds to private ownership.

The major difference between Kansas and Nevada is not some perceived different emphasis, but the fact that Kansas is mostly farm country, where yeoman farmers could make a living on 160 acres (at least back then). By the end of the 19th century, virtually all of the federal land in the state had been purchased or claimed. What's left is mostly the military bases, national monuments, and other special-purpose areas.

In Nevada, the feds couldn't sell all the land because it wasn't suitable for 160-acre farms, and they basically got stuck with the leftovers.
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Old 04-14-2014, 03:25 PM
DrDeth DrDeth is offline
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The Homestead Act didn't just give out free land willy-nilly. You had to actually live on it and "make improvements" which usually meant farm it. The law actually stayed on the books (IIRC) until sometime in the 1970's but in reality the last of the even marginally farmable land was homesteaded in the 1920's. More to the point, though, the small single family farms that the whole homesteading concept is based on were only ever really good for providing slightly more than very basic subsistence, even on good land.

So even if there still were some halfway decent land left, I doubt there'd be many takers. There is, however, all sorts of worthless desert acreage in private hands that can be had for cheap if you simply must join the landowning class.
Yeah, you can buy it for as cheap as $100 a acre. look at "land' on ebay for some ideas.
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Old 04-14-2014, 03:39 PM
GreasyJack GreasyJack is offline
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Yeah, you can buy it for as cheap as $100 a acre. look at "land' on ebay for some ideas.
Well, right, that's my point. If the government suddenly reinstated the Homestead Act, it'd still be much easier to buy some super-cheap piece of (privately-owned) desert off eBay than taking up the government's offer of "free" land you had to homestead on to get.
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Old 04-14-2014, 04:01 PM
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In other words, it's not that the Federal government is hoarding the land like a miser. It's that NOBODY ACTUALLY WANTS TO OWN IT! It's poor land. It's land that ranchers would have to maintain and pay property taxes on out of pocket instead of basically paying a fairly nominal grazing fee to set their cattle out on.
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  #42  
Old 04-14-2014, 04:13 PM
barbitu8 barbitu8 is offline
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Originally Posted by Freddy the Pig View Post
Let us divide the states into groups:


Group II: Other states east of the Mississippi. The original 13 ceded their claims to these territories as a condition of confederation, and both sovereignty and ownership passed to the federal government. However, these states are prime agricultural land, and virtually all of it was bought by private citizens at premium prices.
Many parcels of land in this region were "patented" from the US government to veterans for services rendered during the Revolutionary War. Patents are essentially deeds. In addition, the French settled in many areas, and many parcels were owned by French people, who received their titles from France. This was particularly true in central Illinois. The US government had to make settlements with those owners. In examining title to parcels of land in central Illinois, one begins with the patent from the US government. However, those deriving titles from the French government also claimed title to many parcels.
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Old 04-14-2014, 04:22 PM
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It sounds like in a nutshell, the first 17 or so states owned their land outright prior to being states. The rest, except Texas, Alaska and Hawaii were all formed as territories out of existing Federal land gained either through the original western claims, the Louisiana Purchase, or the post-Mexican war cession. Texas and Hawaii, entering the union in as sovereign nations. retained ownership of their land.

So any unsold land remains owned by the Federal government in most states- but only the Western states have any appreciable amount of land unsold, and most of that is cruddy range land or mountains.
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Old 04-14-2014, 04:52 PM
Saint Cad Saint Cad is offline
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Originally Posted by jayjay View Post
In other words, it's not that the Federal government is hoarding the land like a miser. It's that NOBODY ACTUALLY WANTS TO OWN IT! It's poor land. It's land that ranchers would have to maintain and pay property taxes on out of pocket instead of basically paying a fairly nominal grazing fee to set their cattle out on.
Not true. Case in point in Nevada - someone wanted it as grazing land, they just didn't want to pay fair market value for it. Also, it is impossible to offer to buy it from BLM if you do want the land.

Last edited by Saint Cad; 04-14-2014 at 04:53 PM..
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Old 04-14-2014, 05:33 PM
aceplace57 aceplace57 is offline
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Thanks everyone for contributing to this informative thread. I found the links provided very helpful.
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  #46  
Old 04-14-2014, 07:40 PM
JKellyMap JKellyMap is offline
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Yes, thanks to all. I get it now! Bump summarized the story well.
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Old 04-14-2014, 11:25 PM
md2000 md2000 is offline
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Well, right, that's my point. If the government suddenly reinstated the Homestead Act, it'd still be much easier to buy some super-cheap piece of (privately-owned) desert off eBay than taking up the government's offer of "free" land you had to homestead on to get.
Yes and no. Technology has changed a lot in the last century. Land that could not be reasonably farmed in the 1800s might be easily farmed today by trucking in water, doing drip irrigation, etc. then when your 10 years or whatever are up, take full title and turn off the tap. Free land. The government does not want to simply hand over title for no permanent benefit. The original homestead acts were to set up permanent inhabitants, not to create a loophole where someone could grow fruit trees for 10 years in return for a square mile of free cottage land. In fact, given today's environmental preoccupations, they certainly don't want people ripping up square miles of scrub.

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Originally Posted by Saint Cad View Post
Not true. Case in point in Nevada - someone wanted it as grazing land, they just didn't want to pay fair market value for it. Also, it is impossible to offer to buy it from BLM if you do want the land.
The point was that the land was unused, so as long as nobody got greedy the whole community could share the open range. No need to draw lines, put up miles of fence, say "keep your cattle over there". As I understood it, quite a few ranchers use the areas- Bundy just thinks the price is too high. The BLM had to check brands to separate legit cattle from Bundy's.

Plus the government was giving small ranges to farmers. They were not going to sell hundreds of square miles to single landholders for almost nothing. That would be a gift to the ranchers, and would mean that if irrigation or some such happened, or if a railroad wanted to go through, etc. - no development would happen... And the 1800s were all about development, not perpetuating open ranges.
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  #48  
Old 04-15-2014, 12:59 AM
OldHarry OldHarry is offline
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Mr. Buddy should get his cows off OUR land.
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Old 04-15-2014, 07:25 AM
GreasyJack GreasyJack is offline
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Yes and no. Technology has changed a lot in the last century. Land that could not be reasonably farmed in the 1800s might be easily farmed today by trucking in water, doing drip irrigation, etc. then when your 10 years or whatever are up, take full title and turn off the tap. Free land....
It's perfectly possible, but expensive. Very expensive. You really think you could farm a piece of dry scrubland for 10 years at a cost less than the $100/acre such land goes for on the private land market? Well, you're wrong, probably by an order of magnitude or two.
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Old 04-15-2014, 09:02 PM
md2000 md2000 is offline
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It's perfectly possible, but expensive. Very expensive. You really think you could farm a piece of dry scrubland for 10 years at a cost less than the $100/acre such land goes for on the private land market? Well, you're wrong, probably by an order of magnitude or two.
Depends what you mean by "farm", I guess.
What were the requirements for homesteading?
You could plant a few acres of fruit trees, drip irrigation.
If the government still had unlimited homesteading on all federal land, I imagine you could get some land with a choice view that simply isn't on the market. There are some millionaires or billionaires that might pay someone to do so... I agree, it's thoroughly impractical for someone in my financial bracket.
Did you have to live on it? that would be the assumption before the automobile, but today a 100-mile commute a few times a week is no less impractical than trucking a tanker load of water every so often for irrigation.

This - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Homestead_Acts - just says "improvements" and in one case, plant 40 acres of trees to get 160 acres. Title vested typically in 5 years. It also mentions a number of groups play fast and loose with the process to acquire "...huge tracts of land..."

Quote:
For the next 5 years, the homesteader had to live on the land and improve it by building a 12-by-14 dwelling and growing crops. After 5 years, the homesteader could file for his patent (or deed of title) by submitting proof of residency and the required improvements to a local land office.
This link http://www2.lhric.org/pocantico/west...mesteadact.htm shows a claim where only 35 acres were ploughed for crops, but the title claim was for 160 acres.
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