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State Trust Lands:
trust land exchanges; wildlife conservation

Our Position: oppose
Bill Number: HCR2033
Sponsor: Nelson
Legislative Session: 2008 Legislative Session

HCR2033 was amended with a strike everything on trust land exchanges; wildlife conservation in the Natural Resources and Public Safety Committee.  It refers to the ballot a proposed constitutional amendment that would allow the State Land Department to trade state trust lands for public or private lands.  While it indicates that the exchanges must be for wildlife, this provides little if any assurance that the end result will be good for wildlife.  Land Exchanges are invariably driven by development, not wildlife conservation.

Status

It was never heard in the House Rules, so is dead unless they suspend or change the rules.

Action Needed

No action is required at this point.

Background

Arizona voters have rejected similar land exchange bills six times since 1990 (please see attached spreadsheet for details).  Most recently we voted down Proposition 100 in 2004, a measure that the proponents promoted as protecting open space and military airports.  The voters are skeptical about land swaps – and for good reason.

Federal land exchanges provide numerous examples of why this mechanism for consolidating land is a problem for the public.  Federal management agencies have had land exchange authority for many years.  Even though they are required to do thorough reviews via the National Environmental Policy Act and ensure that the trade is in the public interest, there are significant problems.  The General Accounting Office (GAO) issued a report in June 2000 where auditors found that often the public lands were undervalued while the private lands were overvalued, resulting in significant losses to taxpayers.  The agency also found that many of these exchanges had questionable public benefit.

The GAO discovered that there were some exchanges in Nevada in which the nonfederal party who acquired federal land sold it the same day for amounts that were two to six times the amount that it had been valued in the exchange.  The GAO actually recommended that Congress discontinue federal land exchange authority. 

Several years ago, an independent entity, the Appraisal and Exchange Work Group, was formed to review Bureau of Land Management (BLM) land exchanges.  The Work Group’s report concluded that BLM’s land appraisals were inappropriately influenced by the managers wanting to complete the deals and that these unduly influenced appraisals cost the public millions of dollars in lost value in exchanges with private entities and state governments.

One land swap resulted in an ethics violation investigation of Kathleen Clarke, who was then the BLM Director.  The proposed San Rafael Swell land exchange would have cost federal taxpayers $100 million as the BLM lands were so undervalued. 

We have also seen the difficulties with federal public land exchanges in the U.S. Congress, as is evidenced by the current legal issues and indictment of Congressman Rick Renzi.

  Land exchanges also will exacerbate urban sprawl around Arizona’s cities and towns.  The lands that will become state trust lands and will then likely be developed are going to come from public lands on the urban fringe.  That means lands near Scottsdale in the Tonto National Forest (which have been included in past land swaps), lands near Flagstaff from the Coconino National Forest, and lands near Tucson from the Coronado are likely to be eyed for trading.  It also means a lot more Bureau of Land Management (BLM) public land will be traded away for development.  Developers have floated proposals to acquire various lands near Sonoran Desert National Monument via land swaps.  This would open vast swaths of our desert areas to even more development.

In considering exchanges, you must examine both the lands that are being acquired and the lands that are being relinquished, who stands to benefit, and whether the trade is equitable and in the public interest.  The bottom line is the public generally gets the bad deal.

Why extend land exchange authority to state lands when there is so much inherent difficulty and opportunity for abuse?

The public has been right to reject these land swaps six times in the past.  We urge the legislature to do the same and to reject HCR2033.

     
     

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