The Effects of Inaccessible Public Land on Local Economies in the American West

Bryan Leonard and Andrew J. Plantinga


Historical land disposal policies created a mosaic of land ownership that can limit access to public lands. We quantify the amount of “stranded” inaccessible public land in 400 counties across the western United States. We estimate the effects of public land on county rents and wages and diagnose the extent to which selection into public vs. private land may affect these estimates. Our results show that accessibility is crucial to understanding the effect of public land on local economies: on net, inaccessible public land is a disamenity to consumers that may raise or lower costs for firms, while accessible public land is an amenity to consumers that may be productive for firms.