The Commission on Intergovernmental Relations: A Report to the President for Transmittal to the Congress

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Chapter 14
NATURAL RESOURCES AND CONSERVATION

During the first century of our Nation's history, natural resources were regarded as inexhaustible. Priceless acreage was transferred freely from National and State ownership to private ownership on the assumption that this policy would best promote the rapid development of the country. Around the turn of the century, this trend was gradually reversed; disposal was largely stopped, and considerable areas of private land were restored to government ownership by purchase when it became apparent that practices of private management were tending to deplete our natural resources.

Today the National Government remains by far the largest single landowner in the continental United States. Outside of urban and suburban areas, it owns nearly 400 million acres and acts as trustee for 57 million acres of Indian lands. These holdings comprise about 24 percent of the total area of the United States; most of them are in the Western third of the country. West of the Rocky Mountains, approximately half the land is Federally owned. Of the 1.5 billion acres owned at one time or another by the National Government, more than 1 billion acres have been disposed of. Land holdings of the States approximate 80 million acres; holdings of municipalities are estimated at 10 million acres.

Since the turn of the century, there have been substantial Federal acquisitions of land for watershed protection, timber conservation, wildlife refuges, and additions to the National park system. During the 1930's, large areas of eroding and submarginal farm land were purchased for rehabilitation; since World War II, extensive areas have been acquired for housing and defense purposes.

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