Land trust flips private property to feds in Utah

  • Grand Staircase Escalante national monument

Hoping to thwart commercial development within the Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument in Utah, a well-heeled Arizona land trust recently flipped several parcels of private land to the Bureau of Land Management (BLM).

With the sale, the Flagstaff, Ariz.-based Grand Canyon Trust pocketed $440,000 from BLM. When word spread several years ago that several owners of private parcels, known as inholdings, within the federally-owned monument were considering setting up tourist-related businesses on their land, the Grand Canyon Trust quietly bought up 21 acres, which it began selling to BLM in December 2012.

While the 21 acres may not sound like much, they are located in rural Garfield County, where only 3 percent of the land is privately owned. “Every bit we lose, that will cost us property taxes,” Garfield County Commissioner Clare Ramsay told the Salt Lake City Tribune (Jan. 30). “We can’t afford to lose anymore.” With its already limited tax base making it difficult for the county to provide basic services, Garfield County vigorously opposes further government ownership of land within its boundaries.

Comprising some 1.9 million acres of land, the Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument was created by the Clinton administration in 1996, without any consultation with Utah’s congressional delegation or state officials. In the ensuing years, the feds have purchased 175,000 acres of state-owned inholdings. BLM would also like to snatch up the remaining 11,000 acres of private land within the monument with money provided by the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF). The LWCF was established by Congress in 1964 to provide money for the acquisition of “sensitive” lands inside national parks and wilderness areas. Funding for the LWCF comes from fees and royalties from offshore oil and gas drilling.

The behind-closed-doors manner in which the monument was created has left bitterness in its wake in Utah, with the state effectively being denied access to its own land and natural resources. Utah is undertaking several legal challenges to federal land within its borders. Recognizing that government ownership of land has become a sensitive issue in Utah, BLM has identified 5,423 acres of federal land in Garfield County it is prepared to sell to private interests, according to the Salt Lake City Tribune.

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About the Author: Bonner Cohen, Ph. D.

Bonner Cohen, Ph. D.

Bonner R. Cohen, Ph. D., is a senior policy analyst with CFACT.