Map of the Month February 2016: Nevada Land Ownership

Map of The Month

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Nevada Land Ownership – February 2016



On September 28, I made a presentation at the annual conference of the Nevada Association of Counties (NACO) in Las Vegas, Nevada.  This presentation was part of a session that discussed public land issues. This blog discusses my presentation and a voice-over-power point of my presentation is part of the Map of the Quarter which covers public lands in Nevada.

One of the unique characteristics of the Western United States is the degree of public land ownership or administration.  For the eleven contiguous Western States approximately 47% of the land base is federally controlled.  For Nevada, approximately 87.6% of its land acreage is under federal ownership.  However for many of Nevada’s counties such as Esmeralda, Lander, Lincoln, and White Pine counties over 90% of their land base is administered by the federal government (Zimmerman and Harris, 2000).

For the NACO presentation several points were made in the presentation that are enumerated below:

  1. A unique land base in Nevada is the checkerboard lands. Some 4.2 million acres in the Central Pacific Railroad corridor along Interstate Highway 80 is designated as checkerboard because of its blend of BLM and private ownership parcels. This intermix of public and private lands makes for difficult economic development because not one large piece of contiguous private land is available for large economic development projects.
  2. The state of Nevada has 110,567 square miles of land.  In a referenced study by Dickens (Dickens, 1982), this makes Nevada the 7th largest state in land area.  However if the public lands were subtracted from the total Nevada land acreage, Nevada would be the 10th smallest state in the union.
  3. Also in 2015, Nevada received $23.3 million in Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILT) while New Mexico received $34.5 million and California received $42.2 million.  Nevada had 56.8 million acres in federal land whole New Mexico had 22.8 million and California had 40.0 million. Because New Mexico has 33 counties compared to Nevada’s 17, the PILT payment calculation favors the state of New Mexico.
  4. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is the largest public land manager in the state. In 2012, BLM managed approximately 47.8 million acres or 67.5% of Nevada’s land base (Nevada Land Management Task Force, 2014). However one must be cognizant that the operational expenditures and payrolls of BLM for the state and many of its counties is an important economic base for current and future economic development.
  5. For Fiscal Year 2013, BLM had direct employment of 4,691 jobs with an output of $542.0 million in the State of Nevada (Bureau of Land Management, 2015). Employing economic multipliers, the overall impact to Nevada’s economy from BLM operations were $1.0 billion in economic activity and employment impacts of 7,664 jobs (Bureau of Land Management, 2015). The operational expenditures of BLM and the expenditures of BLM payrolls by its employees impact many Nevada county economies currently and into the future.
  6. In the voice-over-power point, several economic impact studies are covered which discuss how amenity values impact local economic activity and development. Past studies of the knowledge-based worker shows that they prefer to live high amenity areas in which public lands of the West are part. An argument suggests that recent advances in communication, decoupling of knowledge based versus manufacturing centers now allow people to do their work in remote rural locations. The development of internet capabilities has reduces the vast distances in the West were once thought a hindrance but may not be so with communication developments. Also rapid growth in passive income (Dividends, Interest, and rents and Transfer Payments) has brought public lands as amenities for future economic development.
  7. Other authors found public land amenities may be important but they are not sufficient to stimulate a sustaining economic growth. Studies have shown that on one hand the beauty of the landscape and the other the access to regional metropolitan centers continues to be an asset. Commuting range, population densities and access to airports are still important factors for economic development.

Given the dominance of public lands and public land management in the Western United States, its importance along with surface and groundwater management will continue to be important natural resource issues for the West and nation for some time.


  1. S. Department of Interior. “Socioeconomic Impacts in Nevada”. Bureau of Land Management: Washington D. C.,, 2015.

Dickens, R. “Statehood, Sovereignty, and Sagebrush Rebellion”, State Sovereignty As Impaired by Federal Ownership of Land, Legislative Council Bureau, State of Nevada, Carson City, Nevada, Bulletin No. 82-1, January 1982.

Nevada Land management Task Force. “A Report of the Nevada Land Management Task Force to Nevada Interim Legislative Committee on Public Lands: Congressional Transfer of Public lands to the State of Nevada”. Carson City, Nevada, July 18, 2014.


Zimmerman, J. and T.R. Harris. “An Update of Federal and State Land-Based Payments in Nevada”, University of Nevada, Reno, University Center for Economic Development, UCED 2000/01-06, September 2000.


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