Keep public lands public
The 105th Congress, second session, March 24, 1998, included testimony from the top land-exchange appraiser in the U.S., saying that the appraisal system is not functional in several areas even “among reasonable people,” concluding that especially any “contentious” exchanges were “political determinations” and not “value based” equalizations. Examples were given in the million-dollar to tens-of-millions-of-dollars range.
This condition is clearly present in our case, where private lands surrounding the exchange sold for $17,000 an acre, compared to the current and adjacent public lands newly appraised at $2,000 an acre. That is an $18 million discrepancy. Ironically this higher price was derived from adjacent purchases by the very proponents of this exchange. The Sutey ranch at $6 million, plus $2 or $3 million in cash is still $9 million to $10 million short.
It has been highly contentious to even sell public lands but especially among those in the negation rooms in this case. So contentious that the proponents changed venues to the more favorable administrative land-exchange process from an unsuccessful bid in the legislative exchange process.
Are the Bureau of Land Management public trustees to be trusted with these events? Let’s look at it. The “equalization of monies clause” is invoked only if the appraisal of public lands are greater than the adjacent private land values. That is already a forgone public loss based on the provided appraisal. No help there.
The BLM is charged by Congress, as stated by the director of the Department of the Interior, to fulfill a “fiduciary responsibility” to the public. It is clear this is not happening or going to ever happen using the existing appraisal system. Local elected officials should also have the greater public responsibility at the soul of their decisions; however, many are seemingly capitulating to this highly skewed administrative proposal, and they appear to be done with the fight for the public commons or equal values or equal acreages, I hope not, but it looks so.
Why would any public official, elected or not, agree to sell public lands, not on any disposal list, full of wildlife and with plenty of hiking access, for half price ?
Let’s look at the access issue, in my mind one of the weakest criteria for lowering public-land value. Truly a mad way to look at land value. But that is exactly what the exchange lawyers argued because it is a trigger word for appraisers to scrub public-land value. Mount Sopris is a much longer hike than the hike to this public land. Should we sell the rest of Sopris to a frugal private bidder, as well?
What about Sievers peak, the Bells, Daily, Chair and the hard-to-get-to, special places we only tell friends about? What about those secret, hard-to-get-to fishing streams and lakes? All for sale? Where does it stop? Where do I get mine? Oh, I have mine: It’s called public lands!
Keep all public lands and keep public lands useful; fully compensate the public legacy. I think it’s safe to say the proponents can amply afford to be even handed.
Then essentially we are looking at a privately financed condemnation of public lands without full compensation. I’m not sure it has a legal basis, given what Congress said about its own appraisal system. I do support private land rights and have argued successfully to financially support private ranchers all over the county and region in not developing their ranch lands for many good public reasons. They were compensated fully for what they gave up! I do not support this administrative loss of public land. If you do support this, ask yourself if you have a personal or familial gain that stands greater than the public trust.
Those are my findings to date, and so far the current proposal has changed very little in a genuine way. Certainly nowhere do we see value for public land expressed as the heritage or legacy we wish to pass to our children’s children. If you are one of these officials, be a public land steward. If you are an ordinary citizen like me, call or write your local and county officials, call your congress, call the BLM now.
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