Why Is There So Little Federal Public Land in Texas

In 2012, the United States federal government possessed somewhere between 635 and 640 million acres of land, which represented around 28 percent of the total 2.27 billion acres of land in the country.

Approximately 52 percent of the land that is owned by the federal government is located in the western states, including Alaska, which has 61 percent of its land controlled by the federal government. In comparison, the federal government only had ownership rights to 4% of the land in the remaining 38 states. The administration of minerals, oil and gas resources, timber, wildlife and fish, and any other natural resources that can be discovered on federal territory is the goal of the policy governing federal land.

Policies regarding land management are often contested due to the economic, environmental, and social implications that policies have which may impact ranches for sale. In addition, the size of the federal estate as well as the acquisition of more property for use by the federal government are key concerns.

The Congressional Research Service estimates the total land area of Texas to be 168.2 million acres. As of the year 2012, the federal government-owned 1.7 percent of the total land area, which was equivalent to 2.97 million acres. Moreover, 167 million acres in Texas are privately held, which results in 6.34 privately owned acres for every federally owned acre in the state. The United States Government acquired an additional 326,275 acres of land in the state of Texas between the years 1990 and 2010.

When compared to New Mexico, Texas had a smaller amount of federal land, but Oklahoma had a larger amount. In comparison, the United States Forest Service only possessed 1.4% of federal land in New Mexico and 1.422% of federal property in Oklahoma, but in Texas, they owned almost 40% of all federal land. In comparison, the National Park Service only controlled a total of 376,849 acres in New Mexico and 10,008 acres in Oklahoma. However, the agency owned almost 1.2 million acres in Texas.


There are a total of 13 National Park Service units in the state of Texas, in addition to one national monument, three national forests, six wilderness areas, two national recreation areas, one national historic site, and one national historic route. According to the findings of a survey conducted by the National Park Service of the United States of America in 2013, national parks and monuments in the state of Texas were visited by 3.4 million individuals, who collectively spent $173.4 million.

Agricultural and Commercial Development on Public Lands

The United States Bureau of Territory Management (BLM) is the agency that reviews lease applications from private mining firms, such as oil and natural gas corporations, in order to allow these businesses to explore and produce energy on federal land. The BLM is the agency that must be contacted by the corporation in need of a lease in order for the land to be considered for oil and gas development. The decisions on leasing that are made by the BLM state offices are based on the land use plans for those states. These land-use plans contain information regarding the resources of the area as well as the possible environmental effect of oil or gas development.

The BLM demands information regarding how a firm plans to conduct its drilling and production in order to receive approval for leasing federal lands. Following this step, the BLM will conduct an environmental assessment and compile a list of prerequisites before any activity can commence on the land. Additionally, the government conducts inspections of the drilling and production done by the corporations on the leased properties.

In 2013, there were 47,427 active leases on federal property across the country, spanning a total area of 36,09 million acres. In 2013, the state of Texas was home to 683 leases, which accounted for 1.44 percent of all leases and covered 415,181 acres, which represented 1.15 percent of all property that was leased. In 2013, the BLM authorized 3,770 new drilling leases across the country for oil and gas exploration, and 965 of those licenses were in Texas. This represents a 25.5% share of the total.

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