About the Public Lands Website

This website is a resource put together by the National Caucus of Environmental Legislators (NCEL) for state legislators to get the most up-to-date information and messaging tools on public lands efforts within their state and across the West.

NCEL was organized in 1996 for the purpose of providing environmentally progressive legislators with an opportunity to coordinate their activities with respect to national legislative issues, and to share ideas both on affirmative and negative environmental issues.


America’s national parks, forests, monuments, wildlife refuges and other public lands are a national treasure and are enjoyed by more than 300 million Americans each year.

A 2015 Public Opinion Strategies/FM3 poll found that in the last year 95 percent of Western voters have visited public lands managed by U.S. government agencies, such as National Parks and National Forests. A majority (58 percent) of voters say they visit public lands six or more times per year, with 42 percent visiting more than 10 times per year.

Sportsmen and women are the most frequent visitors to public lands as 38 percent visited more than 20 times per year and an additional 22 percent went more than 10 times each year. Fully 98 percent visited public lands in the last year. Seventy-nine percent of sportsmen say access to public lands for recreational activities is very important to them, compared to 67 percent of those who do not identify as hunters or anglers.

Millennials (voters age 18-32) are also more likely than the overall electorate to visit public lands, with 62 percent visiting six or more times per year.

Outdoor recreation is also an overlooked economic giant according to the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis (annual consumer spending in billions):

  • Financial Services and Insurance $780
  • Outpatient Health Care $767
  • Outdoor Recreation $646
  • Gasoline and Other Fuels $354
  • Motor vehicles and parts $340
  • Pharmaceuticals $331
  • Household Utilities $309

Of the $646 billion in outdoor recreation spending, $256 billion (40 percent of national total) is spent in Western states.

Western non-metropolitan counties with more than 30 percent of land base in federal protected status such as national parks, monuments and wilderness, increased jobs by 345 percent over the last 40 years. Similar counties with no protected public lands increased employment by only 83 percent (Headwaters Economics).


In the states legislation is being proposed and passed to transfer federal public lands into state ownership, despite this being unconstitutional on both the federal and state levels (See Report: A Legal Analysis of the Transfer of Public Lands Movement). This includes efforts in AZ, CO, ID, MT, NV, NM, OR, UT and WY, and WA.

Historically “transferring” public lands is code for the ultimate desire to sell them off to private interests for mining and logging. Legislation and budget plans have also been introduced in Congress that explicitly seek to privatize significant amounts of federal land. This includes the “Disposal of Excess Federal Lands Act” (H.R. 2657); a House Budget Committee’s 2015 resolution, “…selling unneeded acreage in the open market;” and an amendment bySenator Ted Cruz (R-TX) to require in states with more than 50 percent federal lands, to transfer “excess” lands to states or sell them off at auction.

At the state level most of the effort to transfer public lands is coming from Utah Rep. Ken Ivory. Rep. Ivory pushed state laws requiring the return of federal lands to Utah, using ALEC’s Disposal and Taxation of Public Lands Act model legislation. He was awarded ALEC’s Legislator of the Year Award in 2014. He founded the American Lands Council, a nonprofit with the sole purpose of transferring public lands to the states. Montana Sen. Jennifer Fielder also introduced almost 40 pieces of legislation to transfer public lands.


Below is a presentation on the efforts to protect public lands from NCEL’s National Issues Forum on July 31, 2015.