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Douglas C. Pizac, AP
Wild horses run along the base of the Cedar Mountains on Feb. 6, 2006, in Skull Valley, Utah.

SKULL VALLEY, Tooele County  — A complicated but significant land exhange in the crafting stages for well over a decade is becoming closer to reality.

The exchange would benefit both public land managers and cattle ranchers by consolidating land ownership.

The proposal is up for public comment through July 17 and involves the Skull Valley Co., and the Bureau of Land Management.

Both entities have vast holdings of land in the Tooele County valley, but ownership has been complicated due to chunks or parcels of land that each owns within the other organization's boundaries.

Under the trade, the federal land agency would acquire a little more than 14,300 acres in exchange for giving up nearly 14,000 acres.

According to an analysis of the proposal, the BLM would get 598 acres in the Cedar Mountain Wilderness Area, achieve more cohesive management of a wild horse area and also gain ownership of historic landmarks such as "high potential historic site and recreation destination" at Lookout Pass.

That landmark, now located on the ranching property owned by the Robinson and Freed families, is part of the Pony Express National Historic Trail that includes a Pony Express station and an associated dog cemetery.

Christopher Robinson, a general partner in the Skull Valley Company, said it was just last week that a Tooele County official called him inquiring about a way to make improvements to the landmark area.

"It gets a lot of public use and needs some order to it," he said. "It's getting loved to death."

The location of the landmark on private property has created some confusion over the years, and management of a historic site is better suited for the federal agency, he added.

"Consolidating these land exchanges is a good alternative all the way around."

The dog cemetery, in particular, has gained attention among Tooele County locals who want to preserve the spot where a postmaster's wife buried her cherished pets.

"One of the station master's wives made this enclosed area to bury the dogs," said Michael Nelson, assistant field manager in the Salt Lake office in BLM.

The BLM also picks up more integrated sage grouse habitat under the trade, as well as critical winter range for mule deer.

Robinson said the vast amount of considerations related to "like" trades and accounting for the appraised value of the land necessarily has drawn-out the process.

"It's only taken us 14 years to get to this point," Robinson said. "The essence of the exchange is part of the challenge in finding balance on three or four different fronts. We had to come up with an equal sign on a whole host of issues."

Robinson, vice chair of the Utah Chapter of The Nature Conservancy, said the proposed land exchange still has some additional hurdles to clear, but it has been tuned and re-tuned to try to satisfy a variety of needs that include right of way considerations, easement challenges, hunting and public access.

"This thing has been through a number of iterations," and is a win-win for both entities, he added.

"It has to be in order for it to work."

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