Railroads & Clearcuts


Introducing the Railroads & Clearcuts Map Project

Welcome to Railroads and Clearcuts: The Maps

In the nineteenth century, the federal government directed several dozen railroad corporations to sell public lands along the tracks to homesteaders and settlers. The money raised was to be used to construct and peate the nation's railroad and telegraph system. Congress blew it by giving the railroads much more land than they needed -- ten percent of the continental United States. The railroads, as corporations are wont to do, took full advantage of the situation. They sold millions of acres of the public domain to timber, mining, and real estate corporations, and kept millions of acres more for themselves. You can read other web pages to learn the history of the railroad land grants, or to learn about how Americans have recovered some of these grant lands in the past.

Today, the largest landowners in several Western states (including Montana, Idaho, Washington, Oregon, Utah, Nevada, and Calfornia) acquired their holdings from the land grant railroads. Timber, mining, energy, commercial and industrial real estate, and the transportion system are still dominated by land grant corporations, their spin-offs, and their heirs. You may wish to see profiles of some of these corporations.

For more than ten years, several citizens groups, including The Lands Council, the Western Land Exchange Project, and the Public Information Network have worked to recover the lost history and lost public lands. Click here to contact the groups working on the Railroads & Clearcuts Campaign. Until now we have lacked accurate maps which show the corporate holdings which derive from the railroad land grants. Indeed, the ownership of land is a taboo subject. Few people realize that a few hundred corporations control most of the private land in this country, and the Land Lords like it that way. This project aims to give the public some knowledge and tools to understand and change the way land and resources are controlled.

We are currently compiling a geographic information system (GIS) database which will show the railroad land grant boundaries, current corporate land holdings, surrounding National Forests and National parks, remaining ancient forests, and selected crisis spots which have suffered because of corporate control, including Endangered Species Act exemptions (HCPs), toxic mining waste, and clearcutting.

The base maps, the land grant, and some of the land ownerships were originally mapped by environmental sociologist Mike Meuser of MapCruzin, a consulting firm providing data, tools, knowledge, and expertise that will help tribes, governments, community groups, and businesses communicate the various facets of environmental, health and social problems, solutions, and achievements.

Additional land ownership mapping and maintenance are being provided by Erik Ryberg and Bill Haskins.
Erik Ryberg performs GIS and research work for environmental organizations in Oregon, Washington, and Idaho, and publishes Columbia Profiles, a compilation of data concerning public lands use in the Columbia River Basin.
Bill Haskins is Operations Manager of The Ecology Center in Missoula, Montana; he received a B.S. in Ecology, Morphology and Systematics from the University of Nebraska in 1980, and an M.S. in Environmental Studies from the University of Montana in 1993, and has many years experience in using Geographic Information Systems to analyze and display conservation information.

It is hoped that the project will eventually include every major corporate landholding in the country. We welcome comments and suggestions, and most of all we hope the maps are useful to you in your work to protect the land and hold corporations and governments accountable. This is a grassroots project fueled more by passion than by money, but we do need funding to continue this work. We are also collecting maps and data in any format which show corporate ownership of land, whether inside the land grant boundaries or elsewhere. To contact us regarding donations or data, click here.

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