Private property ownership in the United States is protected under common law, state law and federal law (through the United States Constitution). The Fifth Amendment of the Constitution makes it clear that individuals have the right to own and sell property and that this property may not be taken from them from the government. The Amendment reads “Nor shall [anyone] be deprived of life, liberty, or property without due process of law; Nor shall private property be taken for public use without just compensation.”
Under the United States Constitution the states, not the federal government, are the primary protectors and regulators of property ownership and protection of the bundle of rights that come with property ownership. Article 1 of the 10th Amendment prohibits states from passing any law that impairs a person’s contractual right to acquire or use property. To ensure that state governments also protect the right of individuals to own property the creators of the Constitution included in the 14th Amendment the following assurance, “…nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”
With regard to forestland ownership it is the states that have laws that protect owners from such things as trespass—the unauthorized entry or use of someone else’s property—and the unlawful removal of timber and other non-timber forest products.
Today there are approximately 11 million individuals and families that own forestland in the United States.