States’ Rights and the National Forests

For longer than the United States has existed as a nation, people have disputed the ownership and control of lands we consider part of today's "public domain." One of the first notable concessions of land in the young nation's history came when the seven original "large" colonies agreed to relinquish their claims to land stretching west from the Appalachian Mountains to the Mississippi River.

With this, New York, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Virginia, North and South Carolina, and Georgia sought to solidify their bond of unification with the states that lacked large land claims--New Jersey, Rhode Island, Delaware, Maryland, New Hampshire, and Pennsylvania--and allotted land to the federal government's care.

On multiple occasions in the two centuries hence, various state and county governments have tried to reassert claims to these public lands. In the twentieth century, these efforts crested most famously with the Sagebrush Rebellion of the early 1980s then again in the mid-1990s with county resolutions that asserted control of federal land holdings.

The Forest History Society collections include a number of agency documents, speeches, reports, memos and news clippings that describe some of the efforts states and counties periodically made as they sought to wrest control of the national forests and other public lands from Congress and the American people.