September 11, 2007

Feds Buy Western Lands with High Conservation Values

Environment News Service

WASHINGTON, DC, September 11, 2007 (ENS) - A piece of property located within the Idaho Snake River Area of Critical Environmental Concern is among the first to be purchased from a willing seller under a new law that established a fund to allow federal agencies to buy lands for the American people.

The Bureau of Land Management, BLM, is buying the Idaho land and also properties within or adjacent to California's Coachella Valley Fringe-Toed Lizard Area of Critical Environmental Concern; the North Platte River Special Recreation Management Area in Wyoming; and the El Camino Real de Tierra Adentro National Historic Trail in New Mexico.

These purchases are part of a larger federal land acquisition program that is now underway. BLM and three other federal land-management agencies are in the process of acquiring 19 parcels of land in seven Western states with $18 million from a special land conservation fund.

The fund, established by Congress under a law passed in 2000, authorizes the purchase of private "inholdings" from willing sellers in the Western states whose acreage is surrounded by or located next to certain lands under the management of the U.S. Forest Service, National Park Service, the Fish and Wildlife Service as well as the BLM.

"The $18 million to be used for these land purchases will bring into public ownership 19 properties with extraordinary natural, scenic, recreational, or historical values," said Deputy Interior Secretary Lynn Scarlett. "These purchases promote conservation while helping ensure efficient and effective public lands management."

The first of their kind to occur under the Federal Land Transaction Facilitation Act, FLTFA, of 2000, the purcases are funded from completed sales of other federal lands.

Under this law, the BLM is authorized to sell fragmented or isolated parcels of public land that are difficult to manage, as well as lands that may have residential or commercial value, and then use the proceeds to support land conservation purposes.

"The benefits of this sale authority law are clear," said Scarlett, who noted that FLTFA is set to expire in 2010.

"I urge Congress to support this administration’s proposal to extend the law from 2010 to 2018 so that more Americans may benefit from these type of land acquisitions," she said.

Of the 19 land parcels, covering about 9,000 acres, the BLM is acquiring 10 parcels covering 3,200 acres at a combined cost of about $10 million.

The Forest Service, National Park Service, and Fish and Wildlife Service are buying the other nine parcels, covering 5,800 acres, at a combined cost of about $8 million.

The properties to be acquired are located within national parks, national wildlife refuges, national forests, national monuments, national wild and scenic river corridors, national historic trail corridors, and areas of critical environmental concern.

The remaining 15 properties are located in Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, New Mexico, Oregon, and Wyoming.

All of the remaining parcels to be purchased are at various stages of negotiation with private landowners, and, Scarlett says that "because of privacy concerns," they cannot be further identified until the acquisitions have been completed.