From E&E News today….
Former Interior chief Norton faults state bids for federal tracts
Published: Friday, December 5, 2014
Utah’s Legislature in March 2012 passed a law demanding that the federal government by Dec. 31 this year relinquish 31.2 million acres owned mostly by the Bureau of Land Management and Forest Service to the Beehive State. Proponents of the law believe Utah is owed the lands under its 1894 Enabling Act, but legal scholars say the demand is unconstitutional (E&ENews PM, Oct. 29).
While that effort is still in limbo, Norton, who led Interior in the George W. Bush administration, pointed to a previous attempt, known as “Project Bold,” that unsuccessfully tried to consolidate control of “checkerboard lands” in Utah, where federal parcels are interspersed with state and private lands.
“Even during the Reagan administration, that went down in flames,” she said.
Instead, Norton recommended that state lawmakers “explore some sophisticated approaches that can provide benefits that are more obvious to the public” than the loosely supported arguments they’ve offered so far (Greenwire, Dec. 5).
“I think a lot of people are really concerned about the notion that anything that’s not in federal ownership is immediately going to be paved over,” she said. “Clearly, that’s not the case, but that’s the concern you need to address.”
Furthermore, people across the country need to be assured that states can responsibly manage federal lands, Norton added.
“It’s not just the people of Utah that need to be assured that it can work, but the people of New York and California and so forth,” she said. “So it’s a real uphill battle.”
But Norton told her fellow Republicans that there was still cause for hope: “I’ve heard some discussion of increasing the amount of land that might go into parks or other protected spaces in exchange for releasing some of the lands back to state ownership.”
There could also be “some opportunities for shared management of those lands, especially in the checkerboard lands,” she said.
A land-management example Norton said she sought to follow during her time at Interior was created in part by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), “who you might think would be a real opponent.”
She noted that Reid was one of the original co-sponsors of the 1998 Southern Nevada Public Land Management Act, which requires BLM to sell 27,000 acres of federal land in Clark County over a 20-year period (Land Letter, June 27, 2002).
“Because Las Vegas is completely surrounded by Bureau of Land Management lands, [the bill’s authors] came up with the concept of auctioning off some of those lands with all of that money designated either for conservation use or land acquisition of sensitive lands or things that would have an immediate benefit in the local area,” Norton explained. “Well, as a result, they got the support of environmentalists as well as the real estate developers and the local community.”
Sales authorized under the law had generated more than $2.7 billion, “which is huge in the context of public land management budgets,” she said. “That’s the kind of sophisticated approach and localized really targeted approach that I think might be successful.”