This chapter presents an introduction to the contemporary public land policy of America. Approximately 663 million acres, or 29 percent, of the nation's land is owned by the federal government. The vast majority of this acreage is concentrated in the eleven western states (Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming), where federal ownership encompasses more than half the land base. The chapter reveals that no single event signaled the beginning of a new policy era during the waning years of the nineteenth century, when a new utilitarian conservation philosophy first surfaced. It finds that over the past century, federal and state officials have worked assiduously to control fire on public lands in order to protect precious timber and range resources, as well as surrounding private property and scenic vistas.
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