Iowan’s have little direct contact with federal land regulators. Afterall, Iowa only has .3% that’s right three tenths of one percent of its land mass owned by the federal government. We have essentially no large active-duty military bases, forest reserves, grazing lands, or few national monuments that impact the land use decisions that private citizens make. In fact, the most federal contact Iowan’s have is probably through the USDA office for FSA and NRCS programs and crop insurance claims.

Other states are not so lucky. Consider Utah, which has over 60% of its land in its state owned by the feds. Feds, as you will no doubt be surprised to learn, do not pay taxes to the states on the ground they own. They do pay something called PILT (Payment in lieu of taxes) but it is not the same. Why is this a big deal, who cares? Well, if you are a county in Utah, you might have 5,000 people living in your county on 5% of the land. Hard to provide for essential services like fire protection, EMS, rescue, and sanitation when 95% of your land base is federal lands. Add in three million visitors to the federal lands per year and it becomes even more taxing… See what I did there? Taxing…

Federal officials in the west have noted that when somebody’s nose itches in Washington, people sneeze cough and gasp for air in the West. That is because of the power of the federal government has on affairs in the west because it owns so much of the ground.


Aside from the impact on locals, the federal government has a virtual alphabet soup of regulatory agencies that dictate who can do what on different types of federally owned land. The Bureau of Land Management controls some of the grazing on federal lands, but the Fish and Wildlife Service, the Forestry Department, and Bureau of Indian Affairs all have seat at the table. Each of these regulatory agencies have to follow their play book as proscribed by the federal register via published rules and congressional acts. Environmental activist groups are keenly aware of this process and watch the promulgated rules, comment on them and lobby for changes that suit their missions and desires. Other groups should but sometimes fail to see the changes coming down the pike via regulatory rule. A good example is endangered species listing. Activists seek to enlarge the list of protected and endangered species as those on the list can isolate and take habitat out of other beneficial uses like grazing and mining.

Water is another property right that Iowa doesn’t really have to deal with the way other states sometimes do. Water rights in the west are not the same system we use in Iowa. Tell a western cattle producer that you irrigate right out of a river with no permit or restriction on gallons and watch their jaw drop.

Be aware of the west and the troubles it has with the federal government. The fed has broad sweeping powers to declare lands federal preserves, restrict private activities because of endangered species listing and establishing new federal facilities. Right now, Iowa is relatively clear of federal entanglements outside of Farm Service Agency programs but that is not a guarantee.