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Impacts of Public Lands

Written by Dr. Tomotaroh Granzier-Nakajima
Published on April 11, 2023
Research Highlights

Publicly held land can be used for several purposes (e.g., recreation, resource extraction, conservation).

Public land is untaxed, but some local governments in MO can receive federal and state payments to offset lost taxes.

While public land can generate revenue, its overall impact on local economies is not clear.

Publicly held land serves several different purposes.

About 93% of land in MO is privately held (Van Dien 2022). 3.8% is owned by the federal government (Table 1), and 3.2% is owned by state, county, or municipal governments (Vincent 2020). Comprehensive descriptions of the types of land (e.g., size, features, use) that state, counties, and municipalities own are not publicly available.

Most of the about 15.5 million acres of forest land in MO is privately owned (82%) compared to federal (12%), state (5%) and county/ municipality (0.5%) owned (Oswalt 2019).

  • MO has one national forest—Mark Twain National Forest—which encompasses approximately 1.5 million acres across 29 counties (FS 1 n.d.). 
  • Nationally, 89% of harvested timber comes from private lands (Oswalt 2019).

Publicly held land serves several different purposes.

Federal, state, and locally owned land are exempt from property taxes (MO Const. Art. X Sec. 6; DOI 1 n.d.).

Federal Payments

In 1976, the U.S. passed legislation creating Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILT)—federal payments sent to local governments to help offset lost property taxes.

Payments are determined by population and federal land within a county, and may be used for any local governmental purpose. Maximum payments are determined by county population and adjusted for inflation using the Consumer Price Index.

  • The MO counties that received the most PILT payments in 2022 are (DOI 2 n.d.): Wayne ($291,482), Shannon ($258,321), Reynolds ($231,368), Oregon ($212,348), and Taney ($202,076).
State Payments

The MO Conservation Commission within the Dept. of Conservation provides payments to political subdivisions (e.g., towns, counties, cities) in lieu of real property taxes for private land that is acquired by the commission and acquired after July 1, 1977 (MO Const. Art. IV Sec. 43(b)).

  • The MO Conservation Commission determines payment amounts, which cannot be smaller than the property tax that was being paid at the time the land was purchased.


The economic impacts of publicly held land are not clear.

The effects of publicly held land on local economies are difficult to measure because of:

1. Variations in land use requirements. There are several types of federal land with different purposes and regulatory requirements (Morales 2020).

  • For example, federally designated wilderness areas, but not national forests, prohibit harvesting timber, mining activities, grazing, motorized vehicles, and any kind of development (WC n.d.).

2. Contributions from other economic drivers. Changes in public land ownership can affect population growth, per capita income, and job growth. Population growth is associated with both higher costs of living and increases in new businesses and job growth (Morales 2020; Rudzitis 2000).

  • One study found that when the status of 11 million acres of federal land in the Pacific Northwest changed to longer allow timber production, local employment growth was reduced but migration into the area increased (Eichman 2010).
Revenue generation

The federal Secure Rural Schools Program distributes funds that the FS generates through multi-use activities such as grazing, timber production, and special use permits, to eligible counties to help with local road maintenance and schools. These payments have been authorized through 2023.

  • Missouri received about $3.2 million in Secure Rural Schools Program payments in 2021 (FS 2 n.d.).
  • Payments are calculated using the amount of land in a county that is owned by FS and the per capita personal income in that county (FS 3).

In 2021, 2.8 million people visited national parks in MO, spending about $211 million in the local region (NPS 2022).

  • This money largely went to lodging, restaurant, and recreational industries and supported 3,270 jobs.

In 2022, 19.8 million people visited MO state parks (MDNR n.d.).

  • A study found that in 2011, state park visitors spent about $778 million and supported 14,535 jobs.
  • For every dollar that was spent by the MO parks system, there was a $26 return on investment for MO’s economy (MDNR n.d.).



Eichman, H., Hunt, G. L., Kerkvliet, J., & Plantinga, A. J. (2010). Local Employment Growth, Migration, and Public Land Policy: Evidence from the Northwest Forest Plan. Journal of Agricultural and Resource Economics, 35(2), 316–333. Retrieved April 10, 2023, from https://www.jstor.org/stable/41960520 

Missouri Department of Natural Resources (MDNR). (n.d.). Facts and Figures. Missouri State Parks. Retrieved April 10, 2023, from https://mostateparks.com/page/55072/facts-and-figures  

Morales, J., & Jenkins, M. (2020). (rep.). How Do Federal Lands Impact Local Economies? The Center for Growth and Opportunity at Utah State University. Retrieved April 10, 2023, from https://www.thecgo.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/09/How-Do-Federal-Lands-Impact-Local-Economies.pdf 

Oswalt, S. N., Smith, W. B., Miles, P. D., & Pugh, S. A. (2019). (rep.). Forest Resources of the United States, 2017. U.S. Forest Service. Retrieved April 10, 2023, from https://www.fs.usda.gov/research/publications/gtr/gtr_wo97.pdf 

Rudzitis, G., & Johnson, R. (2000). (rep.). The impact of wilderness and other wildlands on local economies and regional development trends. Retrieved April 11, 2023, from https://www.fs.usda.gov/rm/pubs/rmrs_p015_2/rmrs_p015_2_014_026.pdf.  

U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI 1). (n.d.). Payments in Lieu of Taxes. U.S. Department of the Interior. Retrieved April 10, 2023, from https://www.doi.gov/pilt 

U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI 2), Payments and Acreage By State / County (n.d.). Retrieved April 10, 2023, from https://pilt.doi.gov/counties.cfm?term=county&state_code=MO&fiscal_yr=2022&Search.x=32&Search.y=18.   

U.S. Forest Service (FS 1). (n.d.). Welcome to Mark Twain National Forest. Forest Service - Caring for the Land and Serving People. Retrieved April 10, 2023, from https://www.fs.usda.gov/mtnf  

U.S. Forest Service (FS 2). (n.d.). Secure rural schools - payments. Forest Service. Retrieved April 10, 2023, from https://www.fs.usda.gov/working-with-us/secure-rural-schools/payments  

U.S. Forest Service (FS 3). (n.d.). Secure rural schools - payments. Forest Service. Retrieved April 11, 2023, from https://www.fs.usda.gov/working-with-us/secure-rural-schools/payments  

U.S. National Parks Service (NPS). (2022, July 12). Visitor Spending Effects - Economic Contributions of National Park Visitor Spending. National Parks Service. Retrieved April 10, 2023, from https://www.nps.gov/subjects/socialscience/vse.htm  

Van Dien, D. (2022, December). Missouri Outdoor Recreational Access Program. Missouri Conservationist. Retrieved April 10, 2023, from https://mdc.mo.gov/sites/default/files/2022-11/MOCON_Dec22_508_0.pdf 

Vincent, C. H., & Hanson, L. A. (2020). (rep.). Federal Land Ownership: Overview and Data. Congressional Research Service (CRS). Retrieved April 10, 2023, from https://crsreports.congress.gov/product/pdf/R/R42346 

Wilderness Connect - University of Montana (WC). (n.d.). Key Laws. Wilderness Connect. Retrieved April 10, 2023, from https://wilderness.net/learn-about-wilderness/key-laws/default.php  

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