In early September, Bill Rodgers, a Buick salesman in Knoxville, Tenn., landed a great deal. Rep. John Duncan, R-Tenn., introduced a bill to Congress ordering a land exchange that would give Rodgers 3,888 acres of Bureau of Land Management land, mostly in Utah on the Colorado border. In exchange, Rodgers would give 2,048 acres that he currently owns in Moffat County, Colo., to the BLM.
While relatively small land exchanges like
this one are not uncommon (HCN, 4/15/02: Fashion faux-pas in the
forest), BLM officials believe they are being saddled with a lemon.
"This land has not been identified as necessary or desirable," says
BLM Deputy Director Jim Hughes. Even though the parcel abuts the
Diamond Breaks Wilderness Study Area, he says, the BLM doesn't want
it: "It does not exhibit wilderness
The BLM, in this case, has
little power. Land exchanges involving property in more than one
state require congressional approval, explains Janine Blaeloch,
director of the Seattle-based Western Land Exchange Project.
Land-management agencies can sometimes review such swaps, she says,
but Duncan's bill is written to "covertly waive" environmental
Rodgers would be required to
place a conservation easement on his acquired parcel, according to
Don Walker, Duncan's press secretary, and he plans to cooperate
with the Utah Department of Wildlife to improve wildlife habitat.
But Blaeloch contends that the swap has
disturbing implications. "These small exchanges are the bread and
butter that representatives use to reward some powerful
constituent," she says. "This deal deserves as much attention as