Unowned US realestate

Is every mile of the United States owned by someone or government entity? How much of the US is owned by foreign governments?

I’m pretty sure every square mile is spoken for. The Bureau of Land Management sort of acts like the default manager for land which doesn’t fall under the domain of any of the other government agencies. Given the land policies of the US government for the first 150 years or so, most of the good or even marginal land is either privately owned or protected and what has ended up in the BLM’s care is all the miserable scrubland nobody wants. You know, little places like about 70% of Nevada.

I’m not sure about foreign ownership, but I’m pretty sure it’s not much. After the state and federal governments the biggest landowner in the US is Ted Turner who “only” has about two million acres, or about .08% of the total.

Oh, actually I guess some timber companies own more than Ted (curse you wikipedia!), so he’s just the largest individual land owner.

In some form or other the government always owns the land. Even back in the days of homesteading, the government was allowing you to have the lands. So in a sense it was the government’s land

Ownership is a two-part question, the first being very easy, the second part being very hard.

The easy part is all the land west and south of the original 13 colonies. The federal government bought all of that land or had it ceded over to it through treaties or conquest.

The hard part is fixing ownership from colonial days. The grants given out in England would sometimes say things like all the land between the 40 and 45 parallels west. Not west to anything, becauxe they didn’t know. Just west. Of course they had no idea where any of these boundaries were. Sometimes the boundaries overlapped with those of another grant. Sometimes the grants didn’t quite line up with another. Some land in the new states was purchased from the Indians without anyone understanding the boundaries. State lines were created after the fact and became retrofitted on imaginary lines. That’s why being a surveyor in colonial days was a prestigious and very lucrative occupation. Ask George Washington.

These broad boundaries should have been sufficient to encompass all the land within them. Either the land belonged to the federal or the state government and transfers were made to individuals or to municipalities. There really is no such thing as unowned land anywhere within the country. The most you can point to are those few instances when the survey proved to be wrong and a boundary line between purchases left a strip unaccounted for. Those have long since been found and incorporated.

But within the broad boundaries in the older colonial states, ownership of a particular plot of land can get very tricky. When I worked for a city government one of my jobs was to establish the provenance of every piece of dedicated parkland in the city. Dedicated meant that the state legislature had passed a bill mandating that land had to be kept free from of commercial uses and maintained by the city in perpetuity unless another bill was passed by the legislature to transfer it. This covered not just obvious big parks, but recreation centers, schools, pocket parks, strips of median land down the middle of streets, and other stuff you’d never think of.

Some of that land dated back to before the legal incorporation of the city by the state. Nobody ever thought to write a special bill to cover those little downtown parks and commons. They just were. But where were they? It sounds like fiction, but you really did get boundary markings like “from the big oak tree, 3 rods south by southwest to Miller’s Creek and then running along said creek for six chains and then north to the elm.” The oak, the elm and the creek are long gone, of course. And somebody else owned the adjoining and now very valuable downtown land.

Those are the only major points of contention, other than one or two long standing arguments about a state line, which have technically been settled but still have adherents on one side or the other. If you’re hoping to plant a flag on some unclaimed land you’re plumb out of luck.

What about properties that were abandoned over 100 years ago? Aren’t there a good few towns in the NE (IIRC Bill Bryson speaks of one or two) that were abandoned and have become forests? Does adverse possession exist in the US?

I would think that the closest thing you are going to find to unowned property is real estate that is foreclosure limbo e.g. repossessed by a lender who subsequently went bankrupt and the possessions have not been liquidated.

Abandoned properties are owned by someone. Unclaimed property of any type can fall to the state and property without an heir also falls to the state (“the state” here meaning “some government entity” whether we’re talking cities, counties, states, federal bureaus, etc). At the very least, the state would eventually seize the land due to unpaid property tax.

Adverse possession does still exist as a sort of last resort, though different states have different takes on it. I know more than I want to about adverse possession because of a former employer who was convinced she could take over green space from her homeowner’s association that way.