Report on BLM Land Exchanges Recommends an Independent Appraisal

Report on BLM Land Exchanges Recommends an Independent Appraisal

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- A workgroup will release a report Friday reviewing federal land exchanges after the program drew fire last year over a questionable land swap proposed in the San Rafael Swell.

Among the 17 recommendations, the report proposes the Bureau of Land Management establish a separate, independent appraisal team to evaluate land swaps. In addition, the report recommends a public information plan to help correct misperceptions and prevent controversy.

The workgroup, which consisted of representatives from several federal and state land groups including the U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Reclamation and the Bureau of Land Management, was formed in February 2003 to recommend improvements to the BLM's appraisal and land exchange programs. The impetus was a proposed land swap that would have cleared the way for a national monument in the San Rafael Swell, a series of steep canyons in central Utah.

Last year, BLM appraisers protested the proposed swap with Utah.

Utah officials wanted 137,166 acres of federal land in several chunks in exchange for 108,264 acres of state parcels across the San Rafael Swell.

A BLM document cited by one appraiser said the exchange could cost federal taxpayers $117 million.

Gov. Mike Leavitt, who initiated the move toward creating the monument, later asked President Bush to halt efforts after residents in Emery County, home of the San Rafael Swell, voted against the national monument idea in a nonbinding ballot referendum.

"I think our goal was ... about insuring the integrity of this program for the BLM and it's effect on citizens in the West," Jim Hughes Deputy Director of the BLM said of the recommendations. Hughes is chair of the workgroup.

The workgroup audited reports issued by the General Accounting Office and the Office of Inspector General, some of which dated back to 1987.

The workgroup was divided into two groups, one to review appraisal practices, and the other to review land exchanges. The appraisal group made seven recommendations; the exchange group made 10 recommendations.

The report will be sent to federal and state BLM offices. Those offices will have a chance to respond to the recommendations by June 20, said John Wright spokesman for Department of the Interior.

(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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