Local Effects of Stranded Public Land

Award Period
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Agency Name
USDA Forest Service
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PI First Name
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Area/s of Research
Climate Change Science

Public land accounts for a substantial proportion of area across the western United States, and the way that it is managed has major implications for recreational access, fire risk, and ecosystem services. Across the eleven western states, public land accounts for approximately 383,256,394 acres; however, not all of this land is accessible to the public, effectively making it stranded land. There are approximately 6,019,305 acres that are stranded (Leonard & Plantinga 2020). Leonard & Plantinga (2020) note that land can become stranded through lacking roads or other means of access and being completely surrounded by private land. Additionally, public land across the western US is often organized into a checkerboard-like pattern, which has exacerbated the amount of stranded land (General Accounting Office, 1992). Leonard & Plantinga (2020) go on to combine the protected areas database (PAD-US) (Gergely & McKerrow, 2013) with the US Census Bureau’s TIGER/Line road data (US Census Bureau, 2019) and estimate the effect of stranded public land on county land prices. They find that a 10% increase in the amount of stranded public land leads to a statistically significant 2% decrease in land values, while the presence of public land alone has no effect (Leonard & Plantinga 2020).

There are still open questions regarding the mechanism by which inaccessible public land lowers county land values. For instance, it may be the case that inaccessible public land increases land values immediately adjacent to the public parcel by giving the landowner de facto ownership. It may also be that the lack of accessibility increases management costs for the landowner on their own plot of land through increasing management costs and limiting access (General Accounting Office, 1992). Because the stranded land leads to less secure property rights (Leonard & Plantinga, 2020) it may result in under investment in the surrounding land (Hornbeck 2010). In addition, these local effects may be different depending on the type of terrain, climate, and government agency (e.g. BLM, Forest Service, etc.).

We propose to examine the local effects of stranded public land by constructing a dataset of fine-scale tax lot information and merging it with the existing dataset on accessibility and land ownership. This new dataset will be leveraged in a Forest Service report that describes differences between land adjacent to stranded public land, and land that is not. This will be included in the report as descriptive statistics that may be valuable and easily accessible to land owners, forest managers, and other stakeholders. We will also explore the effects of stranded Forest Service land specifically on county level land values as an extension to Leonard & Plantinga (2020). Finally, the Forest Service report will synthesize the findings of the data exploration exercise and highlight important research questions moving forward.

The research supported by this project has the potential to influence public lands management, not only within the Forest Service but also across the federal government. In particular, it may provide ways of increasing accessibility to public land, and may shed further light on the costs of inaccessibility on public land. Through identifying the characteristics of private landowners that would benefit from changes in management, it may also uncover potential future stakeholders.

Objectives of the Project

The goal of this research is to produce a Forest Service report on the economic impacts of stranded, inaccessible public land. We will break apart the county level effects of stranded, inaccessible Forest Service land from the effects of other agency’s stranded, inaccessible land. In addition, we will produce a dataset that includes high-resolution data on land values linked with data on the location and accessibility of public lands. The Forest Service report will calculate and then report descriptive statistics for private land near stranded, inaccessible public land. We will also identify additional research questions which will influence future research.