Stanford University
Follow the Money: A Spatial History of In-Lieu Programs for Western Federal Lands

(launch interactive website)

Joseph "Jay" Taylor, Erik Steiner, Krista "KJ" Fryauff, Alex Sherman, Celena Allen

In 2014, the eleven states of the Far West received $2.695 billion dollars from federal land management agencies. Why? The answers flow from the history and geography of those lands.

American discussions about federal lands can sound like verbal Rorshach tests. Some regard the spaces as sites for individual opportunity, others as resources to be conserved for wise use, still others as ecologies that must be preserved for aesthetic or recreational pleasure. There has never been consensus about the purpose or sovereignty of these lands. Many westerners resent the vast federal presence, amounting to 47 percent of all lands in Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming. Others view federal stewardship as a bulwark against rapaciousness. The resulting tug-of-war has gone on for more than a century with no end in sight. 

During the twentieth century Congress passed a series of laws that has guided the management of federal natural resources, and in partial compensation for how the federalization of these lands diminished the tax bases of western states, Congress also adopted formulas that distribute a portion of the natural resource revenues to western states and counties. This began with the twenty-five percent payments by the Forest Service (1908), and revenue sharing was integral to the passage of each succeeding federal conservation law, including the Oregon & California Revestment Act (1916), Federal Mineral Leasing Act (1920), Taylor Grazing Act (1934), Bankhead-Jones Farm Tenant Act (1937), Land & Water Conservation Fund (1964), Payments in Lieu of Taxes (1976), and Secure Rural Schools and Self-Determination Act (2000). 

Few Americans are aware of these revenue-sharing programs, and fewer still understand why they exist. Almost no one knows their history and geography because they operate largely outside the consciousness of residents and politicians, yet the political economy of federal lands has always been a central concern of conservation policy. 

The intent of Follow the Money is to provide baseline information for scholars and the public. The goal is to present spatial and temporal data in forms people can use to think about and teach the transfer payments that link federal lands and rural communities. We hope an outcome of this work is greater awareness of how environmental, social, and fiscal policies are entangled in the political economy of federal lands.

Spatial History