“Some environmental groups agree” — including the Wilderness Society — but the article doesn’t mention opposition from anyone….
The bill applies to state trust lands, but it would be very helpful if other state and private land exchanges were easier. In my neck of the woods, some county-owned parcels surrounded by USFS and BLM lands could be exchanged in the same way.
The dual goals of the identical 27-page bills — S. 2078, sponsored by Sens. Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) and Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), and H.R. 4257, sponsored by Reps. Chris Stewart (R-Utah) and Jared Polis (D-Colo.) — are to protect sensitive landscapes while helping states generate more revenue from trust lands.
The “Advancing Conservation and Education Act,” or “ACE Act,” calls for establishing a system allowing Western states to apply to the Interior secretary to exchange state trust lands that cannot be developed because they are surrounded by national parks, wilderness areas, wildlife refuges and other landscapes for federal tracts with “multiple use” designations within their boundaries.
State trust lands are tracts that were given by Congress at statehood to be developed to help generate revenue to fund public schools and hospitals, as well as infrastructure projects.
The legislation would apply to 12 Western states — Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oregon, South Dakota, Utah, Washington and Wyoming — and Alaska.
The inability to develop state trust lands near sensitive federal parcels has been a source of frustration for lawmakers in states like Utah, where two-thirds of the Beehive State is federally owned land.
“This legislation is a win for Utah, a win for school kids, and a win for conservation,” Stewart said in a statement.
Some environmental groups agree and have signed on in support.
“This legislation will better secure America’s parks and wilderness while supporting rural economies and providing revenue for schools. Through this bill, our public lands will be better protected and school kids will come out ahead,” Paul Spitler, director of wilderness policy at the Wilderness Society, said in a statement.
Also supporting the bill is Harry Birdwell, president of the Western States Land Commissioners Association.
“The ability of our state land commissioners to utilize state trust lands to raise revenue for education is made more difficult when these trust lands are surrounded by federal conservation areas,” he said in a statement.
“The ACE Act is a win-win solution that will help our land commissioners better generate badly needed funds for schoolchildren while completing federal conservation areas so that they can be properly protected.”
The text of the bill states that “statehood land grant land owned by the western States are typically scattered across the public land.”
As a result, national parks, wilderness areas and other federal conservation areas “often include State land grant parcels with substantially different management mandates, making land and resource management more difficult, expensive, and controversial for both Federal land managers and the western States.”
But by “allowing the western States” to exchange state trust land “within Federal conservation areas and to select replacement land from the public land within the respective” state boundaries, sensitive landscapes are protected, and state revenues “for the support of public schools and other worthy public purposes” increase, the text says.
In addition to national parks, wilderness areas and wildlife refuges, eligible federal lands would include national monuments and other parcels within the National Landscape Conservation System managed by the Bureau of Land Management.
They would also include Forest Service lands within designated national monuments, national recreation areas, wilderness study areas and inventoried roadless areas, among others, the text says.
State trust lands cannot be exchanged for federal lands within an area of critical environmental concern, or a different federal tract with a conservation designation, the bill text says. State lands also cannot be exchanged for parcels acquired under the Land and Water Conservation Fund, it adds.
The legislation would require the Interior Department to conduct an environmental assessment or an environmental impact statement before finalizing any land exchange.
The Interior secretary would have to issue a final determination on any proposed exchange no later than three years after a state submits an application, the bill says.
The secretary could reject any application if, among other things, it is determined that the exchange would “create significant management conflicts” or is deemed “not in the public interest.”
The costs for all land appraisals, surveys and other expenses would be split evenly between the Interior Department and the state, the bill says.
Heinrich said in a statement that he’s “proud” to co-sponsor a bill “that will increase revenues for our public schools and improve access to the outdoor places Westerners hold dear.”
Flake added, “These are two worthwhile goals that when combined represent a genuine opportunity for those in the West.”