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Know the West

GAO blasts land exchanges

  A recent audit report by the General Accounting Office found that land exchanges by the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management are rarely in the public's best interest. In fact, the report says that both agencies often agree to exchanges that undervalue public lands and overvalue private holdings.

The report, BLM and the Forest Service: Land Exchanges Need to Reflect Appropriate Value and Serve the Public Interest, recommends a moratorium on exchanges until the system is reformed. One step toward reform, according to the report, is to allow time for public comment on exchanges.

The federal land agencies say exchanges are important tools, since they create continuous blocks of public land and reduce management problems associated with checkerboard property ownership. In a letter to Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman says the Forest Service is working to improve the land exchange program and has taken the GAO's recommendations under advisement.

Miller, who requested the report, has called for a moratorium on land exchanges. More than 120 environmental groups have signed a letter supporting him.

"To deal with the issue of consolidating these lands is a great idea theoretically," says Deborah Kmon of American Wildlands. "Until we can prove they are maintaining ecological integrity, (land exchanges) shouldn't take place."

For a copy of the report, visit the GAO Web site at www.gao.gov.