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A Fair Trade

Observations and Recommendations for Improving the Land Tenure Adjustment Process between State and Federal Agencies in the West

Susan Culp and Joe Marlow

April 2013, English

Land tenure adjustment between federal land management and state trust land management agencies is sorely needed throughout the Intermountain West. Given the history of problems created by checkerboard land ownership patterns and trust land in-holdings within federally designated conservation lands, an efficient and fair method of reconciling these issues is needed. The current, cash-strapped nature of state and federal agencies makes the outright sale and purchase of replacement lands an unrealistic option. Agencies have come to consider land exchanges as a tool of choice, but find the hurdles surrounding the process daunting. The barriers to the process have significantly slowed trust land and federal land management agencies in rationalizing land use patterns or achieving landscape scale, contiguous conservation goals. The barriers have also prevented trust land agencies from making the most of their assets in providing revenues for public schools. The annual total number of land exchanges conducted by the Bureau of Land Management and the United States Forest Service during the last 16 years has varied significantly, with a peak in 1998 and generally decreasing to a very low number in 2011.

This working paper examines the limitations associated with the land exchange process, and explores potential solutions that would address those failings. Recommendations are made that would improve and streamline the land exchange process in order to facilitate state to federal land exchanges in the interests of conservation as well as the public beneficiaries of state trust lands. These would include reforming the appraisal process to appropriately capture conservation values in exchange transactions, thus enabling the parties to account for those benefits in the land exchange process. Other improvements could be made to train and retain knowledgeable staff at the federal and state levels to manage land exchange transactions. Lastly, both state and federal agencies could reduce public controversy by engaging in public outreach early to build support for land exchanges.


Intermountain West