Corona Arch, which is now on state trust land, will soon be managed by the Bureau of Land Management after a land exchange between the state and federal entities. [File photo by Andrew Mirrington / Moab Sun News]

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and State of Utah School and Institutional Trust Lands Administration (SITLA) approved a land exchange in Uintah, Grand and San Juan counties on Friday, Feb. 7,

The negotiation for the land exchange began in 2004 and was signed into law by President Barack Obama as the Utah Recreational Land Exchange Act of 2009. The goal was to consolidate land ownership through an equal value exchange of federal and state lands within the three counties.

The BLM will acquire 58 parcels with high conservation and recreation value, totaling 25,034 acres, primarily in Grand County.

“In Grand County we’re acquiring properties we’ve set aside through a land use management plan for protection and recreation,” said Joy Wehking, a realty speciliast in the Utah BLM office.

Some Grand County recreational landmarks in the exchange, including Corona Arch, portions of Negro Bill Canyon and sections of the Colorado River corridor, will be managed by the BLM instead of SITLA when the land exchange is completed.

The BLM would be acquiring land that is now within wilderness study areas, or are included in the resource management plan.

According to the Utah BLM office, nearly six million annual visitors recreating on Utah’s public lands have boosted local economies and contributed to community job growth through recreation tourism. Recreation on BLM-managed lands in Utah provided $490 million in local and national economic benefits in 2012.

BLM state director Juan Palma said this exchange will further support Utah’s local economies by helping the BLM preserve recreation hotspots like the southern viewsheds along the Colorado River and near Arches National Park.

“Public lands in Utah provide places to hunt and hike or travel and camp. They offer retreats from the hustle of daily life or heart-pounding adventures,” Palma said. “Whether you’re looking for something therapeutic and inspirational or adrenaline-filled and exciting, this exchange will expand opportunities for outdoor recreation on Utah’s BLM-managed lands.”

SITLA will acquire 34 parcels with high mineral development potential, totaling 35,516 acres, primarily in Uintah County.

The majority of the land in Uintah County to be acquired by SITLA has potential for tar sand development, said Lisa Bryant, assistant field manager of the Moab BLM office.

U.S. Oil Sands, a Canadian company, is now leasing 32,000 acres of SITLA land on the border of Uintah and Grand counties to mine tar sands. The exchange could potentially double the amount of SITLA land available for tar sands mining.

The state expects development of these parcels to boost public school funding across Utah.

Under the Utah Enabling Act, approved in 1894, additional land was set aside to the state for school trust lands.

“When Utah became a state, it was granted four sections out of every township plat, and gave the remaining land to the federal government,” Wehking said.

A township plat, which is surveying measurement tool, has 36 one-square-mile units per plat. That created a checkerboard-like pattern of scattered state land parcels surrounded by federal land throughout the state.

“The exchange would allow for consolidation of federal of state lands,” Wehking said.“It would allow for more efficient management.”

The state would be acquiring lands that have high potential for resource or energy development, or can be sold.

“It is getting lands that are more recreational and need to be conserved into the right hands,” said Bryan Torgerson, a SITLA resource specialist based in Grand County, of the land exchange. “SITLA will be acquiring lands that meet our fiduciary responsibilities, that allows us to make money for Utah school children.”

Money generated from trust land development and trust land sales is transferred to the Permanent State School Fund, which creates and endowment. The interest and dividends from the Permanent Fund is distributed to schools to each year. In 2012, over $29 million was distributed to Utah schools.

Torgerson said that SITLA doesn’t typically sell a lot of property.

“We are prohibited by law to sell our mineral estates,” Torgerson said. “We will lease it to an exploration company.”

However, in Grand County, where there is less land deemed appropriate for resource or energy development than Uintah County, property may be sold to private buyers, including parcels in Spanish Valley, Torgerson said.

“Since 1998, the Trust Lands Administration has protected and conserved more than 500,000 acres of Utah land through projects and exchanges such as the Recreational Land Exchange Act,” said SITLA director Kevin Carter.

SITLA has earned more than $1.3 billion for the beneficiaries of trust lands, primarily public schools.

“The cooperative effort between SITLA, the BLM, respective counties, and other stakeholders has been extraordinary,” Carter said.

Scott Groene from Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance expressed mixed feelings about the exchange.

“The land exchange is good news for the Moab area, although we have to assume any lands traded to the State will become development sacrifice zones,” Groene said. “Overall, the legislation is a good thing for Utah’s public lands and the Grand Canyon Trust deserves credit for its leadership to make it happen.”

The public has an opportunity to review the land exchange until March 7 and submit a protest by March 24 before the land exchange is finalized.

Appraisal documents and revised maps showing the parcels to be exchanged will be available for public inspection during business hours at the BLM-Utah State Office in Salt Lake City.

The exchange maps and additional documents supporting the exchange, including the environmental assessment, are available online.

Written protests of the land exchange may be sent to the Juan Palma until March 24. The protests must be mailed, hand-delivered or FAXed. Telephone and email protests will not be accepted.

BLM to acquire recreation lands in Grand County; SITLA to acquire resource rich lands in Uintah County

“In Grand County we’re acquiring properties we’ve set aside through a land use management plan for protection and recreation”

Bureau of Land Management

Utah State Office

Attn: State Director

440 West 200 South, Suite 500

Salt Lake City, Utah 84101

440 West 200 South, Suite 500

Salt Lake City, Utah 84101