Protect your public lands

Dear Editor:

The 105th Congress’ second session in March 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 range of a million to tens of millions of dollars.

Private lands surrounding the exchange sold for $17,000 per acre compared with the adjacent public lands newly appraised at $2,000 per acre. That is an $18 million discrepancy. Ironically, this higher price was derived from adjacent purchases by the very proponents of this exchange – the rooms ranch at $6 million, and $2 million or $3 million in cash is still $9 million to $10 million short.

It has been highly contentious to sell unlisted public lands but especially among those in the negotiation rooms. So contentious that the proponents changed venues to the more favorable administrative land-exchange process from an unsuccessful bid in the legislative exchange process.

Both the Bureau of Land Management and the exchange proponent have said that if there is a great price difference favoring the public trust, a clause that protects the public interest is triggered. But that clause is invoked only if the appraisal of public lands is greater than the adjacent private land values. That is already a forgone public loss based on the provided appraisals. We already know they don’t work.

The BLM is charged by Congress with “fiduciary responsibility” to the public. It is clear that this is not happening or going to ever happen using the existing appraisal system.

In addition, the access issue is one of the weakest and most abused criteria for disposing of public lands. Think of any favorite hike in excess of 45 minutes, and then think about it being gone. What about the rest of Sopris, the Flat Tops, the Bells, Daly, Chair and all the hard-to-get-to fishing streams and lakes. 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. Mandate even values.

By any other name, this is 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.

Don’t tell your kids how it used to be. If you are one of these officials, stand up – be a public land steward. Or if you spend any time on public land, call or write your local and county officials, your Congress and especially the BLM now.

Franz Froelicher



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