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Who are the Largest Institutional Landowners in the U.S.?

Updated: Jul 3

Photograph of a paper map of the United States with text overlay 'Who are the Largest Institutional Landowners in the U.S.?'

Are you curious about who controls the vast expanses of American soil? Land ownership has always been a cornerstone of wealth and power, and in the United States, this holds especially true for a select group of institutional landowners. These entities, ranging from private families and corporate giants to investment groups and conservation organizations, command millions of acres of land across the nation. Their influence extends far beyond mere physical space, impacting everything from local economies and housing markets to environmental conservation and agricultural production. In this resource, we will explore the largest institutional landowners in the U.S., unveiling the scope of their holdings while delving into the various ways that they use their properties.

The Largest Institutional Landowners in the U.S.

Some of the largest institutional and corporate landowners in the U.S. have land holdings primarily composed of timberland that they use for a variety of purposes. However, these institutions and corporations own a variety of land types. 

1. The Timber Industry: Weyerhaeuser Company

One of the largest private landowners in the United States is the Weyerhaeuser Company. This timberland giant owns approximately 12.4 million acres of land, primarily in the Pacific Northwest and the Southern United States. Originally founded in 1900, Weyerhaeuser has leveraged its substantial land holdings to become one of the world's largest private owners of timberland. The company’s vast tracts of forest are not just important for the timber industry; they also play critical roles in wildlife habitat preservation and carbon sequestration, contributing significantly to environmental sustainability. Weyerhaeuser also uses its land assets for community development, mining, natural gas, leasing for recreational activities, bioenergy, solar power, and wind power.

2. The Forest Products Leader: Rayonier

Rayonier, a notable player in the forest products industry, is another of the largest corporate landowners in the United States. The company owns and sustainably manages approximately 2.7 million acres of timberland spread across the Southern U.S. and the Pacific Northwest. Established in 1926, Rayonier has evolved from its initial focus on rayon manufacturing to becoming a prominent timberland real estate investment trust (REIT).

Rayonier’s vast forested properties are crucial for producing high-value wood products and fiber used in construction, paper, and other industries. Beyond commercial timber production, the company is committed to sustainable forestry practices, which include habitat conservation and enhancing forest health. Rayonier also engages in recreational leases, allowing the public to enjoy activities such as hunting, fishing, and hiking on its properties. Additionally, the company leases some of its properties for renewable energy production, including solar and wind farms. This multifaceted approach not only supports ecological resilience, but also contributes economically to the communities surrounding its lands.

3. The Timber Giant: Sierra Pacific Industries

Sierra Pacific Industries, operated by the Emmerson family, owns over 2.4 million acres of timberland, largely located in California, Washington, and Oregon. The Emmerson family became America's largest landowner in 2021 when they purchased 175,000 acres in Oregon from the Seneca Timber Company.

Sierra Pacific Industry's private forest lands are generally open to individual members of the public for recreational activities like biking, hiking, hunting, and skiing.  The company is also committed to sustainable forest management practices, which include replanting and conservation measures to protect wildlife habitats. Additionally, the timber giant uses its land assets for logging operations to sustainably produce wood products and actively supports renewable energy production through solar and wind leases.

4. The Conservation Stewards: The Nature Conservancy

The Nature Conservancy stands out among large landowners due to its focus on environmental conservation. Founded in 1951, the organization began by focusing on purchasing as much land as possible in the name of conservation. Owning over 2 million acres of land across the United States, this non-profit organization aims to protect the most ecologically significant lands and waters. Their conservation efforts involve restoring degraded lands, preserving critical habitats for endangered species, and safeguarding natural resources for future generations. The Nature Conservancy's commitment to conservation ensures that large tracts of land are managed sustainably and remain protected from development and exploitation.

5. The Agriculture Titans: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, often referred to as the LDS Church or the Mormon Church, also ranks as one of the largest institutional landowners in the U.S. With an estimated land ownership of 1.7 million acres that is primarily used for agricultural purposes, the LDS Church's land holdings are dispersed across states like Utah, Florida, and Nebraska.

Unlike other nonprofits in the U.S., religious organizations don’t have to publicly report their income or assets, including real estate. It is estimated that the church owns an estimated $16 billion worth of property across the country, with around $2 billion of that being for agricultural land specifically. An estimated $134 million of that total is from their agricultural properties in Nebraska, putting them on track to surpass media mogul Ted Turner as the largest landowner in the state. The church employs its extensive acreage for various agricultural activities, including cattle ranching and crop production, contributing to its self-sufficiency mission and community-support initiatives. The church sees its land purchases as a force for good, an investment in agriculture “to generate long-term value to support the Church’s religious, charitable, and humanitarian good works,” said a Farmland Reserve spokesman. 

How to Find Out Who Owns Land

Land ownership in the United States is dominated not only by individuals but also by corporations and organizations. These large landowners play significant roles in various industries such as agriculture, forestry, environmental conservation, and renewable energy production. Their extensive acreage also contributes economically and socially to local communities across the country. As these large landowners continue to shape the landscape of America, you might be curious about who owns the land in your area or how to find out who owns a specific parcel of land. Here are some ways to discover and learn more about land ownership in the United States:

  • Public Records: One way to find out who owns a specific parcel of land is by searching public records. Most counties have an online database where you can search for ownership information using the property's address or tax ID number.

  • County Assessor's Office: If public records do not provide enough information, you can also visit your county assessor's office. They can provide you with a copy of the property's deed, which contains ownership information.

  • Company Websites: Some of these large institutional landowners, including Rayonier and Weyerhaeuser, provide the location of the properties that they own on their individual company websites.

  • Online Land Ownership Maps: Several online tools allow you to find the location of specific properties that individuals and organizations own, such as LandApp. This platform provides nationwide land ownership information using official records and satellite imagery to create visual representations of land parcels and their owners.


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