Federal ownership of 87% of Nevada land was a condition of admittance into the Union.
Same with many western states. Of course, to you easterners, it's inconceivable. To us westerners, it's a source of friction, as eastern states were held to no such condition in order to gain statehood.
The public lands have one advantage. Fewer people and lots of space.
Yes, and there was one more wrinkle:
The state got to say what they, the state wanted to keep and what was already privately owned. The “un-owned” lands within the state border were ceded to the US government.
The later states in the west (Nevada was admitted in 1864) were much smarter about this issue than Nevada was. Nevada just gave up everything in sight except what lands were wet from Carson up to Reno. When the transcontinental railroad came through, the biggest expansion of private land came with it. Every other section for 10 miles on either side of the railroad was ceded to the UPRR in return for their completion of the rail system.
Later, the private estate was increased by use of Desert Land Entries, which are complicated enough that I won’t describe them here. We used to farm a section that had been converted to private ownership in 1962 by a DLE application.
Why was so much land ceded to the Feds in 1864? Well, Nevada, after all, was controlled by Republicans, and the Republicans were the party of “all for the federal government” during the Civil War. It was another case of the GOP being the “stupid party.” They haven’t gotten any smarter since.
As an example of how other states looked at NV’s situation and decided to make a better deal: Wyoming, when it was admitted in ‘90, held back a lot more ground. WY is only 48% controlled by the Feds, and much of that is in Yellowstone, a few Indian reservations, national forests, etc.
The other contributing factor to the federal ownership was the split-estate use of the federal lands. The Feds could “own” the lands, but water sources were still state or privately owned. The Feds could own the land, but graziers could still own the grass. The Feds could own the “surface estate” of land, but miners could still stake mineral claims, and so on.
The history and mechanisms of federal control over western lands are such a complicated issue that I wish anyone east of the 100th parallel were prohibited from opening their yaps on the topic. The nonsense that comes out of easterners on this topic is a never-ending torrent of absolute nonsense...
Correct, but there was a second part.
Originally, in the eastern part of the nation, in the wet zone, the fed would disperse these lands in increments of 360 or 180 acres either at very reasonable price or as a homestead. They wanted the land settled and they wanted to make some money off of it.
This policy worked fine in the wet zone. With adequate rainfall a farmer can do well with a farm that size.
But when you get beyond the 98th meridian into the dry zone, the 360/180 acre doesn't work. The advisors told congress this wouldn't work and they should so what Spain, Mexico, and Texas did, pass out larger segments of land. But congress refused.
Instead Congress tried grazing commons that led to conflicts. Grazing leases which have created their unique problems. The rancher may own only 360 acres but has the semi-permanent grazing rights to 20,000 acres, which led to the sagebrush rebellion. Also dam/lake building with an irrigation project. A farmer in dry western Oregon with 180/360 acres of irrigated farmland does well.
But there was a lot of land that nobody wanted under the conditions it was being offered. Eventually these lands began to have a recreational value or a development value. So Congress turned it into Turtle Island, set it aside. To go along with that, Congress changed the tax laws to promote limited environmentally conscious private land use and environmental easements.