Public land swaps are common in this country and hundreds of acres of land might be exchanged in any given year. As part of our mission to preserve Utah’s public lands for all to enjoy and use, we at Utah Public Lands Alliance keep an eye on ongoing land swaps that might restrict our use of these public lands.
The Land Exchange Program
The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) conducts land swaps with other landowners in order to acquire important or threatened lands while disposing of lands that have become difficult or impossible to manage. This allows BLM to trade off parcels of private or public land, to smooth out ownership of land in the country and to improve access to public land. The agency is authorized to conduct land exchanges under the Federal Land Policy and Management Act (FLPMA) of 1976. Furthermore, Congress sometimes enacts legislation that governs or authorizes specific land swaps.
FLPMA outlines how land exchanges are to happen. Some of the stipulations include:
- Land exchanges must be in the public interest.
- The nonfederal and federal lands to be swapped must be in the same state.
- The value of the lands swapped are to be equal – sometimes payments may be made under strict and specific terms to equalize the value.
Some land exchanges involve single parcels of land while others have involved the consolidation of multiple parcels involving one or more swaps over time.
Does the Public Really Benefit?
Lands that are acquired by BLM through exchange become public lands and are managed under existing authorities.
While land swaps can offer local communities better access to public land or help in preserving areas of historic, natural or recreational significance, these exchanges are not always benign. There have been instances where land swaps have benefitted private interests such as mining conglomerates, timber companies and developers who then traded used-up tracts for pristine swathes of land. This compounded by under-appraisal of public lands and overvaluing of private lands means that the swaps sometimes yield dubious benefits to the public.
Additionally, the complexity and obscurity of land swaps mean that the public often remains in the dark, hence largely unaware about the entire process.
Support Our Work To Preserve Utah’s Lands
Given the importance of our public lands, the UPLA works to expand public knowledge of the land swap program and encourages citizens to become more involved in his crucial issue. Through our projects, we strive to make a difference in Utah land use and we won’t hesitate to speak out when our public lands are threatened.
You too can get involved with UPLA through one of our membership options, subscribing to our newsletter or sharing our mission and work with others. We also hold or assist in events to encourage people to enjoy this beautiful land we have.
It would be tragic if the public lost some of the most valuable lands we have left. That’s why we encourage all Utahns and Americans to join us in our cause to preserve and keep Utah’s public lands for public use.