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Bipartisan Bill Simplifies Land Swaps

Utah School and Institutional Trust Lands Administration


New, bipartisan legislation in Congress would advance public education and conserve important landscapes by making it easier to transfer lands between government agencies.

The idea is to prevent what happened with theUtah Recreational Lands Exchange Act, which took more than a decade to carry out -- even though the state trust lands office and the federal Bureau of Land Management wanted the 80,000-acre swap.

Utah Republican Congressman Rob Bishop says land exchanges shouldn’t be so complicated. And they shouldn’t take so long.

“Our effort is to try to come up with a modern way of taking traditional land exchanges and simplify the process and make them work in a more effective way than we have in the past,” he said. “There’s an estimate from the governors and other groups of around like 2 million acres that are locked up inside parks and wilderness areas that need to be traded out.”

The bill that is intended to free up conservation areas and lands that can be developed by companies. That, in turn, will boost the revenue going into public schools and universities. The new system would help tidy the checkerboard ownership that has made land trades between Western states and the federal government so difficult. And future land trades could be done in three years.

A Democrat, Oregon Rep. Peter DeFazio is the bill’s sole co-sponsor so far.

The Western Governors Association is supporting the bill.

“I think there is broad recognition,” said Jim Ogsbury, WGA’s executive director, “that the land exchange process is broken.”

The bill is a sensible first step in fixing the problem, he added.

“It’s certainly not radical at all, because it provides a mechanism for the federal government to acquire lands that they’re interested in and the states get the benefit of that bargain.”

Ogsbury praised the Bishop-DeFazio bill as an example of meaningful bipartisanship. He also pointed out that governors on both sides of the aisle are supporting it, as do lands commissioners from throughout the West. Even the Wilderness Society has called the measure “a classic win-win.”

Judy Fahys has reported in Utah for two decades, covering politics, government and business before taking on environmental issues. She loves covering Utah, where petroleum-pipeline spills, the nation’s radioactive legacy and other types of pollution provide endless fodder for stories. Previously, she worked for the Salt Lake Tribune in Utah, and reported on the nation’s capital for States News Service and the Scripps League newspaper chain. She is a longtime member of the Society of Environmental Journalists and Investigative Reporters and Editors. She also spent an academic year as a research fellow in the Knight Science Journalism program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In her spare time, she enjoys being out in the environment, especially hiking, gardening and watercolor painting.
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