State-owned lands are a vital component of state fish and wildlife management programs because they contain valuable habitats for a diversity of wild species and often provide important public access. The Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies (AFWA 2017) reported state agencies manage or administer approximately 188 million hectares of land, including 10 million hectares under fee title ownership with the remainder of those lands leased or licensed in conservation agreements, grazing allotments, or rights-of-ways.
State agencies commonly strive to enhance wildlife habitats within their purview, but have also improved areas not directly owned by them. In total, an estimated 22,953,364 additional hectares have been improved by state fish and wildlife agencies through private landowner agreements (AFWA 2017). States also own 192,000 individual water rights and have developed at least 53,000 formal partnership agreements to conserve wildlife.
Today, there are a plethora of state land categories including wildlife refuges, wildlife management areas, state forests, parks and trails, state trust lands, research and natural areas, and public fishing areas. Acquisition and/or leasing of properties to provide access for fishing and hunting are often vitally important in meeting local constituents’ desires for consumptive uses of their natural resources. However, state agencies also provide areas for forest conservation, boating, camping, hiking, rock hounding, skiing, wildlife viewing, and other nonconsumptive recreational pursuits. Lastly, states often acquire properties primarily for wildlife habitat management/conservation or to preserve areas of cultural and historic value to their citizens.