BLM gets a land-swap lemon
by Joshua Zaffos
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 characteristics."
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 review processes.
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 larger exchanges."