SALT LAKE CITY — The U.S. Forest Service's efforts to buy up chunks of prime land on the North Slope of the High Uinta Mountain range in northeastern Utah were bolstered Friday with its receipt of $1.2 million in land-acquisition money.
Dubbed one of 27 "exceptional" projects in the country and among two in Utah, the High Uintas-Anadarko proposal means 1,100 acres of privately owned land will be enfolded into the Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest.
The acqusition of Anadarko-owned land by the Forest Service has been undertaken in stages since 2006 and is an effort to eliminate the agency's "checkerboard" ownership of land, said spokeswoman Loyal Clark.
"We have national forest lands surrounded by private lands," she said. "Those parcels present incompatible development that may not be compatible with our management goals."
Anadarko Petroleum Co. has been in a purchase contract with the Forest Service to sell off the lands it owns in that area, according to the project description. The property is south of Mountain View and Evanston, Wyo., but in Utah and enclosed by Forest Service lands. Clark said 11,591 acres have been acquired by the agency to date, with another 3,080 acres left on the table.
"Consolidation of land ownership will help ensure that future generations will enjoy the unique opportunities National Forest Service lands provide," said Rick Schuler, district ranger for the Evanston/Mountain View District.
The land in question has historical significance because it was given to the Union Pacific Railroad via land grant to support the building of the nation's first transcontinental railroad.
Anadarko was formerly known as the Union Pacific Land Resources Corp., Clark said.
Over the years, the Forest Service has worked with Summit County officials, The Nature Conservancy and outdoor groups such as Trout Unlimited and the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation to negotiate with Andarko on purchasing the chunks of land, Clark said.
"This is a significant achievement. This is in a prime recreation area," popular among hunters, campers and snowmobilers, she said.
The acquisition will allow the Forest Service to ensure the protection of wetlands and riparian habitat, as well as promote the conservation of threatened and sensitive species such as lynx, Bonneville and Colorado cutthroat trout, and boreal toads.
In addition to the Anadarko project, the Forest Service gets $600,000 to buy land for the Bonneville Shoreline Trail, which serves as range for deer and elk and provides nesting habitat for peregrine falcons.
Overall, nearly $41 million was awarded for projects in 15 states from the National Forest Service Land and Conservation Fund. That fund receives the majority of its money through royalty payments from offshore oil and gas revenues paid to mitigate the environmental impacts of those activities.