Federal Lands, Designations and Regulated Resources

The Federal Government currently owns 640 million acres in the United States.

This page contains information on federal lands, as well as lands with federal environmental designations or resources subject to federal environmental regulations.  The map above contains “layers” which depict each type of area.  The map includes a legend identifying each layer, as well as a drop-down box to allow users to select which layers are displayed. As the map is enlarged, additional data is revealed. Users may click on features to get additional information from pop-up windows. More than one window may be applicable to an area. If so, the multiple windows will be indicated by a number in the upper left hand corner of the box, and an arrow icon that can be selected to page through them. Some of these windows contain hyperlinks the user can select for additional information. An additional layer displaying the boundaries of congressional districts for the 114th Congress is also included, but with two selectable versions which are best used at large and small scales, respectively.  Users can select one or both versions as needed. 

The descriptions below will provide additional information about the areas depicted in the map.  Clicking on these links will provide the user even more detailed information, including links to agency sites and data.  All of the information contained below and in the map was taken from official federal agency websites and sources, with corresponding hyperlinks included where available. 

Users should note that the wetlands are depicted in multiple colors based upon differing wetland types as per the data sets available from federal sources. The wetlands layer is best viewed when enlarged.

Users should note that the only publicly owned lands depicted on this map are owned by the Federal Government. No state, county, municipal or other types of public owned lands are depicted.

Federal Lands

Bureau of Indian Affairs Lands:  The BIA is responsible for the administration and management of 55 million acres in estates held in trust by the United States for American Indians, Indian tribes, and Alaska Natives. These lands equal to an area larger than the state of Idaho.  The Bureau of Indian Affairs is an agency of the Department of the Interior.

Map users should note that the Osage Indian Reservation in Oklahoma is not depicted on the map to reflect a 2010 ruling by the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals that Congress disestablished that reservation, placing the land under state and county jurisdiction.

Bureau of Land Management Lands: BLM lands total some 247.3 million acres – an area larger than the states of Arizona, Colorado, Iowa, and Nevada combined.  99.9 percent of BLM lands are concentrated in 11 Western states and Alaska. The Federal Land Policy Management Act (FLPMA) requires BLM to manage for sustained yield of multiple uses including recreation, grazing, timber, watershed, wildlife, conservation, and energy and mineral resources. The Bureau of Land Management has more land than any other agency.  BLM is an agency of the Department of the Interior.

Bureau of Reclamation Lands and Reservoirs:  7.1 million acres of land and easements, as well as 337 water reservoirs across 17 western states are managed by the BOR, an area slightly larger than the state of Massachusetts.  The Bureau of Reclamation is an agency of the Department of the Interior whose mission is to oversee water resources in the West for both economic and environmental benefit. 

Department of Defense Lands: There are some 14.4 million acres of DOD lands in the United States, more than the combined area of Delaware, New Jersey, Rhode Island, and Vermont. 

National Forests: There are some 154 National Forests and 20 National Grasslands that total 193.1 million acres – an area more than twice the size of Montana.  Although Congress originally authorized National Forests to be managed to protect land, preserve water and provide timber harvests, the Multiple Use-Sustained Yield Act expanded the uses of Forests to include recreation, livestock grazing, and wildlife and fish purposes.  The law also required for sustained harvest of natural resources from forest without hindering the lands’ productivity.  National Forests and grasslands are administered by the Forest Service, an agency of the Department of Agriculture.

National Parks: The National Park system is comprised of 408 sites spread across 84 million acres, an area slightly larger than the states of New Mexico and New Hampshire combined. This includes historic parks or sites, national monuments, national parks, battlefields, preserves, recreation areas, seashores, parkways, lakeshores and reserves.  Approximately two-thirds of all National Park land is located in Alaska, and all of it is administered by the National Park Service, an agency of the Department of the Interior.

National Wildlife Refuges:  There are 560 units in the National Wildlife Refuge System, which includes 267 individual refuges and 38 management districts.  These units total over 89.1 million acres of federal land nationwide, more than the states of Utah and North Carolina combined.  Under the National Wildlife Refuge System Administration Act, the System is supposed to manage and conserve plants, wildlife and fish within its boundaries while also permitting recreation, agriculture and other activities.   Refuges are administered by the Fish and Wildlife Service, an agency of the Department of the Interior.

Outer Continental Shelf: This area encompasses 1.712 billion acres and lies offshore in between where state offshore jurisdiction ends – 9 nautical miles off the coasts of Florida and Texas, and 3 nautical miles offshore for all other states – and the farthest of 200 nautical miles out to sea.  The Bureau of Offshore Energy Management (BOEM), an agency of the Department of the Interior, is responsible for regulating offshore energy development through Five Year Plans that define which OCS areas are open to energy development and conducting lease sales in those areas. Once development begins, the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE) is responsible for regulating environmental and safety standards of drilling operations.  BSEE is also an agency of the Department of the Interior.  BOEM’s current Five Year Plan originally made 218.9 million acres of offshore area open to oil and gas development.  However, on October 16, 2015 the Obama Administration announced it would no longer hold lease sales in the Beaufort and Chuckchi OCS areas north of Alaska, effectively closing over 119.8 acres – more than half the original Five Year Plan area – to energy development.  This leaves only 99.1 million acres, or 5.8 percent of the entire OCS, open for development.  On the above map, OCS areas with a solid outline only are open for development, but those with crossed lines inside the boundaries are closed for oil and gas development.

Environmental Designations and Regulated Natural Resources

Class I Areas under Clean Air Act:  Today there are 156 Class I areas, including lands administered by the Fish and Wildlife Service, Forest Service, and National Park Service. These were created under the Clean Air Act, when the "Class I" area designations were given by the EPA to 158 areas in August 1977 that included all national parks greater than 6000 acres, and all national wilderness areas and national memorial parks greater than 5000 acres as part of EPA’s Regional Haze program for particulate matter and visibility in wilderness and parks.

Critical Habitat: Critical Habitat has been designated for 704 of the more than 1,500 plants and animals listed under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The ESA requires that once the Secretary of Interior has listed a species as either Threatened or Endangered, the Secretary must also designate critical habitat, which is land that is “essential for the conservation of the species.” Critical Habitat can be designated on either public or private land, and has regulatory consequences for those lands. The ESA is implemented by the Fish and Wildlife Service, part of the Department of the Interior and by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, an agency of the Department of Commerce.

National Heritage Areas: There are 49 heritage areas in 32 states. National Heritage Areas were created by Congress to promote places with natural, scenic, historic, cultural and recreational significance. Heritage areas are administered in concert with NPS officials using federal funds with few limitations and may include local, state, federal and private property.  While the original purpose was for heritage areas to rely on federal funds for no more than 10 years, they are routinely reauthorized and funded with the charge to enact their National Park Service approved management plans.     

National Marine Monuments: The Marine National Monuments in the Pacific Islands Region total 330,000 square miles of ocean.  The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) coordinates the development of management plans, scientific exploration and research programs within this area. 

National Marine Sanctuaries: There are a total of 13 National Marine sanctuary areas encompassing more than 170,000 square miles of waters off the Atlantic coastline, the Gulf of Mexico, the Pacific coastline, Hawaii, American Samoa, and in the Great Lakes.  These areas form a network of underwater parks that are kept in their natural settings.  National Marine Sanctuaries are designated and managed by NOAA using the National Marine Sanctuaries Act (NMSA). 

National Monuments:  138 national monuments ranging in size from less than one acre to over 1.9 million acres have been created by presidential proclamation. The Antiquities Act of 1906 gives the president the authority to unilaterally alter land management by designating monuments by claiming it has "historic landmarks, historic and prehistoric structures, and other objects of historic or scientific interest.”  National monuments have also been created by Acts of Congress.  Many national monuments areas are included in BLM, Forest Service, National Parks and other federal land areas depicted above. 

Wetlands: There are 110.1 million acres of “wetlands in the United States.  They are defined as “areas that are inundated or saturated by surface or ground water at a frequency and duration sufficient to support, and that under normal circumstances do support, a prevalence of vegetation typically adapted for life in saturated soil conditions. Wetlands generally include swamps, marshes, bogs, and similar areas.” Wetlands are subject to the regulations of Section 404 of the Clean Water Act, which are enforced by the Army Corps of Engineers and the Environmental Protection Agency.  The Fish and Wildlife Service also monitors, tracks, and maps changes to Wetlands.  More information about the National Wetlands Inventory can be found here.

Map users should note that the Wetlands areas in Alaska are not fully illustrated due to incomplete data sets from FWS sources.

Wild & Scenic Rivers: Wild & Scenic Rivers: 12,709 miles of 208 rivers are designated as Wild & Scenic Rivers and our found on federal, state and private property managed by the Bureau of Land Management, National Park Service, Fish and Wildlife Service, and Forest Service.  The original purpose of the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act was to limit dam construction to protect the “free-flowing condition” of designated rivers, but has effectively functioned to prevent the construction of hydroelectric facilities on those waters.

Wilderness: There are 765 wilderness areas containing over 109 million acres in 44 states, an area slightly larger than the state of California. Wilderness areas are designated by Congress, after which they become part of the National Wilderness Preservation System.  Lands designated as Wilderness are found on portions of the lands administered by Bureau of Land Management, Fish and Wildlife Service, Forest Service, and National Park Service. 

Several federal land management agencies have areas they administer that are not designated as Wilderness, but are managed as if they were wilderness in anticipation of that possibility.  On BLM land, these are known as Wilderness Study Areas (WSAs).  There are 517 WSAs containing about 12.6 million acres located in the Western States and Alaska.  WSAs are areas identified in a BLM inventory of areas with wilderness characteristics but not designated as such.  WSA are managed restrictively, conforming to the standards of designated wilderness.  Congress can create new WSAs, designate them as Wilderness, or remove them from consideration altogether.  On Forest Service lands, these areas are known as Roadless Areas that comprise nearly 58 million acres.  While these areas were created administratively, the designation can be used to prohibit improvements that would provide public access and prevent timber harvests.  The NPS classification for areas with wilderness characteristics is known as Eligible, Potential and Proposed Wilderness. The National Park Service evaluates lands under its jurisdiction for characteristics consistent with wilderness.   Before any congressional designation is made, the NPS determines whether the land is eligible, potential, or proposed wilderness through an administrative process that allows them to limit access and development, ostensibly to protect wilderness features.

 

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