SITLA wants to exchange 135,000 acres of land inside Bears Ears for other federal lands


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While Utah’s Elected Leaders prepare a lawsuit to reverse President Joe Biden’s restoration of the Bears Ears National Monument hasn’t stopped other state officials from exploring how to demolish the 135,000 acres of state-owned land within the monument’s expansive boundaries.

In its current version of 1.36 million acres, the memorial stretches across Cedar Mesa, Comb Ridge, Dark Canyon and the Abajos, an undeveloped, rugged terrain complex rich in archaeological treasures and wonders. nature. Included in that mix are more than 200 square miles of “tickets” of trust lands that are managed to generate revenue for the public schools.

Aside from grazing, there aren’t many Utah Schools and Trust Land Administrations, or SITLAWhat can be done with these lands. Trading them for federal land elsewhere in Utah is the smartest thing the agency can do, regardless of whether Utah wins any lawsuits, according to SITLA spokeswoman Marla Kennedy. to change the boundary of the monument or not.

The agency sold a valuable portion of the inside of the monument at the southern tip of Comb Ridge to a private group.

Below the Statement of October Biden signed Expanding the monument, the Bureau of Land Management was directed to run the huge land trade – as well as protect the land from mining, road construction, and looting.

SITLA’s Bears Ears trade will be among a number of exchanges Utah trust lands officials have made with BLM over the past decade, consolidating its holdings in more suitable mineral-rich areas for making money. Transactions are always driven by the federal government, at the direction of Congress or the president, but these transactions, such as Recreational land exchange in Utah completed in 2014, has worked very well for the state.

Last year, SITLA completed a complex exchange transaction 84,000 acres in Tooele County for 90,000 acres BLM land in six counties in western Utah. Feds need swaps to accommodate massive expansion of Scope of training and testing Utah (UTTR), a large federal military reserve in the Western Desert.

Complicating the transaction is that the land SITLA is giving up is valued at $14 million, or less than half the value of the land SITLA is buying. Rather than reduce the amount of land they were looking for, SITLA exploited its valuable assets including desert turtles and rare plant habitat in a highly developed area outside of St. George to make up the difference. According to Chris Fausett, deputy director of SITLA, it doesn’t take much land to make this difference.

He told the SITLA board at its September meeting: “The 166 acres in Washington County is worth roughly the same 84,000 acres that we traded in the West Desert.

Now at work is a large land trade authorized under the John Dingell Act 2019, a bipartisan public land measure that includes various names in Emery County. The purpose is to allow SITLA to remove land it holds within newly created areas set aside for conservation and recreation.

“We’ve been looking for opportunities to trade away from those wilderness and recreation areas, and we’re picking up a few targets across the state that have the potential to develop solar, harness energy,” Fausett said. mining and industry,” said Fausett. “Like in [test range] trade, here will be the difference in value because what we are trading is not as valuable as what we want. ”

In that deal, SITLA would acquire 98,600 acres of BLM scattered around 17 counties in exchange for 115,500 acres of trust in mostly Emery County.

The UTTR swap proved an immediate winner for SITLA as the agency turned around and sold 25,000 acres of newly acquired shares to SITLA. Graymont Western United States for nearly 7 million dollars. Canada-based limestone producer plans to expand Cricket Mountain operate on this land in Millard County and SITLA will derive royalties from the production.

However, unlike the UTTR and Dingell Act transactions, the Bears Ears transaction was politically charged. Some might argue that by pursuing commerce, the state is giving consent for monumental expansion. Such is the case of Utah, which has long been involved in a lucrative exchange of state land inside the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument as designated by President Bill Clinton in 1996.

In the emergency agreement finalized in 1998, SITLA traded 363,000 acres of land scattered inside the Staircase memorial, four National Park Service units and three national forests for BLM lands, plus a $50 million cash payment to make the difference in market value. SITLA received 145,000 acres of land containing 160 million tons of coal and 185 billion cubic feet of natural gas.

The original Bears Ears designation, signed by former President Barack Obama in 2016, envisioned a similar agreement for the new monument in San Juan County. But The SITLA Board of Directors voted against the transaction its holdings in the monument at the time. Back then, former President Donald Trump had just taken office, signaling he might reverse a statement Obama made that went against the wishes of voters and some local leaders. In late 2017, Trump delivered, cutting that monument to just 200,000 acres including Comb Ridge and Indian Creek in separate units, and halving the Staircase to about 1 million acres.

Now the monument has returned to its original size, plus the 11,000 acres that the Trump administration inexplicably added. Whatever happens to the monument’s boundaries, SITLA will likely strike a deal for its stake in Cedar Mesa and Arch Canyon, lands that aren’t making much money anyway. SITLA wants to exchange 135,000 acres of land inside Bears Ears for other federal lands

Yasmin Harisha

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