Report slams BLM's land-exchange process

 

For years, watchdog groups have said the Bureau of Land Management underestimates the value of the land it trades away to states and private landowners, effectively giving away chunks of the public domain worth billions of dollars (HCN, 2/18/02: Groundswell for a monument?). A new report, released in mid-October, adds credence to those claims and may have set off a shuffling of two high-level agency officials.

The Appraisal Foundation, commissioned by the BLM, concluded that the agency's operation and management of the process is "politicized" and results in the loss of federal money and natural resources. It adds that the process "seriously erodes the BLM's ability to apply appraisal standards and to consistently uphold the public trust assigned to them by law."

Jim Hughes of the BLM says it's hard to establish a fair price for land in remote areas where there are no comparable sales on which to base appraisals. But in the wake of the report, the BLM is conducting a 90-day review of all land exchanges currently on the table, including a controversial land trade in Utah's San Rafael Swell.

Meanwhile, the BLM's senior appraisal specialist, David Cavanaugh, has asked to be transferred out of the agency, and Ray Brady, chief of Lands and Reality, has been assigned to a different office. An agency spokesperson says the transfers are unrelated to the report.