Meet The 3 Largest Landowners In Idaho

Panoramic view of puffy white clouds reflecting on the surface of a tranquil Alturas Lake in the Rocky Mountains of Idaho, USA
© PeskyMonkey/Shutterstock.com

Written by Fern Damron

Updated: June 2, 2023

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Idaho is a pretty big state, encompassing nearly 83,000 square miles, equating to over 50,000,000 total acres. The 11th largest state in the country when ranked by total land area, the state is also the 38th in terms of population. That makes for a pretty low population density overall. With so few people in Idaho compared to the total land area, you may wonder who the largest landowners in Idaho are.

In this article, we’ll take a look at the entities that are in control of the most land in the state of Idaho. We’ll also take a look at exactly how much land they own and what they use it for.

1. The Federal Government — 32,621,631 acres

By far, the various agencies of the federal government are the largest landowners in Idaho. The federal government owns an astonishing 61.63% of the land in the entire state, amounting to over 30 million acres. Out of all the states in the U.S., Idaho ranks third on the list of states with the most land owned by the federal government. 

There are many national monuments and historic sites as well as reserves and preserves on this federal land. Some of these beautiful natural sites include the City of Rocks in Almo; Craters of the Moon, a massive lava flow that stretches across Arco, Carey, and Rupert; and the Hagerman Fossil Beds in Hagerman. There is also a national trail that traces the ancient ice age flooding that led to the creation of Lake Missoula, which itself encompasses around 3,000 square miles. Additionally, although it stretches past the Idaho border, Yellowstone National Park takes up part of this federal land as well.

Although it allocates millions of acres to public land use and wildlife preserves, the federal government also extracts resources from the land that it owns. In April of 2023, the Bureau of Land Management, the Department of Agriculture, and the U.S. Forestry Service approved the beginnings of a new phosphate mine in Caribou County, Idaho.

Phosphate mining is an important industry in the United States, as the resulting phosphate is used in the creation of commercial agricultural fertilizers. However, the mining processes and resultant fertilizers are often responsible for significant groundwater and waterway pollution. This type of mining can contaminate drinking water as well as disrupt the health and reproduction of aquatic life. Although the agencies discuss these issues in the project’s environmental impact statement, pollution risk still exists.

The federal government, the largest landowner in Idaho, controls many national preserves and refuges including City of Rocks.

Gorgeous rock formations at Idaho’s City of Rocks National Reserve.

©iStock.com/jzalopa

2. The Holding Family – 400,000 acres

The Holding family is verified as owning 400,000 acres of land in the state of Idaho. But their massive land holding isn’t limited to just the gem state — the Holding family ranks in the top 30 list of largest landowners in the entire United States. The family shares its country-wide rank of 28 with Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos.

The Holding family once ranked 109 on the list of America’s Wealthiest families, boasting an absurd net worth of more than $2.7 billion. However, by 2016, they would fall off the list. Relatively early in life, the fortune’s patriarch Earl Holding would become a big player in the oil industry, forming the company Sinclair Oil. The company is privately owned and operated and deals primarily in the extraction and refinement of oil and gas. 

In addition to the well-established oil company, the Holding family owns and operates two famous ski resorts: Snowbasin Resort in Utah, and Sun Valley Resort in Idaho. They also own a large chain of luxury hotels, branded under the name Grand America Hotels & Resorts, that dot the western United States.

Generational wealth continues to pass down the line. In 2013, Earl Holding died due to complications associated with a previous stroke. Since then, his wife and children have taken over and run the family businesses, continuing the family legacy of being one of the largest landowners in Idaho.

Sun Valley Resort

Part of the Holdings family’s land is home to Sun Valley Ski Resort, pictured above.

©CSNafzger/Shutterstock.com

3. Frank VanderSloot – 110,448 acres

Although the Holdings have a net worth well above a billion dollars, they no longer base their operations on the state of Idaho. That makes Frank VanderSloot the only billionaire residing in the state of Idaho. In addition to being third on the list of largest landowners in Idaho, he is also the state’s wealthiest man.

In 1985, VanderSloot began a multi-level marketing company called Melaleuca, Inc. which would eventually make him rich. The company manufactures and sells hundreds of home and personal care products as well as nutritional supplements. Some speculate that the company may be a pyramid scheme, although this distinction can be difficult to make accurately. In 2020, the FTC contacted the company about inaccurate or misleading claims made by independent representatives of the company about potential incomes. Part of an analysis of multi-level marketing companies by the Consumer Awareness Institute, hosted on the FTC website, claims that in the case of Melaleuca, “approximately 99% of all participants lose money. . . because of their participation.”

In addition to founding Melaleuca, Inc., Frank VanderSloot controls other large ventures, including several radio stations, a landholding company, and multiple cattle farming ventures. The latter of these businesses uses its share of Idaho land for beef processing and to breed Angus cows and bulls through extensive genetic management practices and herd culling.

Summary of the 3 Largest Landowners In Idaho

RankOwnerAcreage
1The Federal Government32,621,631
2The Holding Family 400,000
3Frank VanderSloot110,448


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About the Author

Fern Damron is a writer at A-Z Animals who covers a variety of topics including plant life, gardening, and geology. They live off-grid in the Southeast U.S. and have been working to restore local Appalachian ginseng stands since 2020.

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