A long-anticipated land exchange between the state and federal governments lurched a little closer toward the finish line Monday with the release of a draft environmental assessment of a proposed deal that would give the Bureau of Land Management nearly 46,000 of state acres with conservation and recreational values.
In exchange, the state School and Institutional Trust Lands Administration, or SITLA, would gain 35,516 acres of federal lands with oil and gas and other kinds of profitable potential. Most of the lands the feds are giving up is in Uintah County, while most of the state holdings are in Grand County.
At statehood, Utah was granted four sections of land per township, resulting in a checkerboard pattern of ownership that does not lend itself to efficient management. SITLA, whose mission is to maximize revenue off its lands, holds sections land-locked within wilderness study areas and other BLM tracts with special designations that complicate development.
The deal, authorized by the 2009 Utah Recreational Land Exchange Act, is designed to enable the state to consolidate its scattered holdings. It loses popular recreation destinations like Corona Arch near Moab but gains land with valuable resources.
The parties are aiming to complete the transaction by the end of the year. The biggest hurdle now are appraisals, which won't be finished until the end of June. These reports are needed so the state and federal negotiators can make adjustments in the swap to equalize the land values, according to Joy Wehking, a real-estate specialist with the BLM.
Some federal grazers whose allotments are covered in the exchange would see their fees double after their permits expire when they would switch to the state's pricier fee schedule.
The Evironmental Assessment examined how the swap would affect several Areas of Critical Environmental Concern, such as Nine Mile Canyon, Behind the Rocks and Lower Green River, big game habitat, grazing, mineral resources, local economies, sensitive species and archeological resources.
The public has until May 17 to submit comments, which can be emailed to BLM_ut_comments@blm.gov.