SALT LAKE CITY — First envisioned more than a decade ago and directed by Congress in 2009, a long-sought land exchange between two government agencies is inching closer to being finalized.
The swap directed by the Utah Recreational Land Exchange is being touted as benefit for both the Bureau of Land Management and the Utah Schools and Institutional Trust Lands Administration.
Under provisions detailed in a newly released environmental analysis, the BLM will pick up nearly 46,000 acres from SITLA, chunks of land that have high environmental, recreational and conservation value. In exchange, SITLA will get 36,000 acres of BLM land that has prime potential for oil and gas development as well as mineral leasing.
The property that is part of the land swap is in Grand, San Juan and Uintah counties.
Joy Wehking, a realty specialist with the federal agency, said the BLM will pick up land in the Colorado River corridor, the Book Cliffs, Nine Mile Canyon and acreage adjacent to Dinosaur National Monument. Most of the property it would acquire under the land exchange is located in Grand County and, according to the analysis, has the potential to infuse new recreation dollars into the local economy.
The school land trust, in return, is adding acreage to its development portfolio to boost its revenue to benefit the Utah Permanent School Trust Fund.
The scattered location and ownership of the lands in question posed management challenges to both agencies and potential land-use conflicts.
"BLM's mission is resource protection, conservation and recreation," Wehking said, "while SITLA's mission is to generate revenue for the public school system. So our management objectives don't always mesh."
The desire for a land swap grew out of discussions in 2002 by an informal group known as the Grand County Roundtable, which included representation from the Sierra Club, the Grand County Trust, BLM and the state of Utah. Several land parcels with prime environmental and recreational value were identified along the Colorado River Corridor but were not in federal land ownership.
Negotiations on what parcels to include in the land exchange ultimately settled on a proposal that was presented to and received the endorsement of Moab City, county leaders in Grand, San Juan and Uintah counties as well as the Governor's Outdoor Recreation Task Force. By 2005, both the Utah House and Senate unanimously endorsed the land exchange, which then sent it on to the federal legislative process.
Kevin Carter, SITLA's executive director, said the trade will help both agencies better fulfill their management objectives.
"We will end up with some very valuable property in Uintah County that will provide significant resources to the Permanent School Trust Fund," he said. "When this exchange is completed, the BLM will have a landscape-sized swath of land to manage for conservation and recreation that our in-holdings would have hindered."
Comments on the environmental analysis are being accepted until May 17. An electronic copy of the review is available online by entering Utah Recreational Land Exchange in the project name field. Written comments can be submitted to Joy Wehking, 440 W. 200 South, Suite 500, Salt Lake City, Utah, 84101, or via email at BLM_ut_comments@BLM.gov.
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