Federal land ownership began when the original 13 states ceded their "western" lands (between the Appalachian Mountains and the Mississippi River) to the central government between 1781 and 1802. Substantial land acquisition in North America via treaties and purchases began with the Louisiana Purchase in 1803 and culminated with the purchase of Alaska in 1867. In total, the federal government acquired 1.8 billion acres in North America. The U.S. Constitution addresses the relationship of the federal government to lands. Article IV, ? 3, Clause 2 -- the Property Clause -- gives Congress authority over federal property generally, and the Supreme Court has described Congress's power to legislate under this Clause as "without limitation." The equal footing doctrine (based on language within Article IV, ? 3, Clause 1), and found in state enabling acts, provides new states with equality to the original states in terms of constitutional rights, but has not been used successfully to force the divestment of federal lands. The policy question of whether to acquire more, or to dispose of any or all, federal lands is left to Congress to decide. The initial federal policy generally was to transfer ownership of many federal lands to private and state ownership. Congress enacted many laws granting lands and authorizing or directing sales or transfers, ultimately disposing of 1.275 billion acres. However, from the earliest times, Congress also provided for reserving lands for federal purposes, and over time has reserved or withdrawn areas for such entities as national parks, national forests, and wildlife refuges. The Taylor Grazing Act of 1934 was enacted to remedy the deterioration of the range on the remaining public lands. This was the first direct authority for federal management of these lands, and implicitly began the shift toward ending disposals and retaining lands in federal ownership. In 1976, Congress formally declared that national policy was generally to retain the remaining lands in federal ownership in the Federal Land Policy and Management Act. The "Sagebrush Rebellion" was a collection of unsuccessful state and local efforts, beginning in 1978, to assert title to federal lands or force their divestiture. It also included efforts by the Reagan Administration and in Congress to divest of many federal lands, which also proved unsuccessful.
Caption title. "December 3, 2007." Title from title screen (viewed on Dec. 5, 2007).
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