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Lands and Realty

Land Sales and Exchanges

Other than land transfers under the Recreation and Public Purposes (R&PP) Act (see the section of this website on Public Purpose Leases and Conveyances), BLM has conducted very few lands sales in Washington County over the last 15 years. By contrast, BLM has engaged in numerous land exchanges intended to acquire title to non-federal lands possessing high values for important natural resources such as critical habitats for endangered species and lands within river corridors and potential wilderness areas. In return, BLM released title to lands that had good potential for development within the urbanizing zone throughout the central core of the county.

Federal policy for public land transfers is established in Section 102 of the Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976 (FLPMA) which states that “…public lands be retained in Federal ownership, unless as a result of…land use planning… it is determined that disposal of a particular parcel will serve the national interest….” BLM’s 1999 St. George Field Office Resource Management Plan (RMP) identifies specific tracts of public lands in Washington County that may be transferred through sale, exchange or conveyance under the R&PP Act. In addition, the RMP identifies criteria for pursuing land ownership changes that would accomplish any of several objectives in the plan for achieving resource management goals, improving land ownership configuration, securing public access, and accommodating the needs of local communities for economic development and reasonable growth. A substantial portion of the parcels identified for possible transfer have already passed out of federal ownership. The overwhelming majority of these transactions entailed exchanges to acquire lands within the Red Cliffs Desert Reserve to help recover the threatened Mojave desert tortoise.
Land sales are conducted at the discretion of the Secretary of the Interior and, in most cases, are made at full market value in accordance with federal law. Current policy is to conduct sales under competitive bidding procedures to ensure a fair return to the United States. In such cases, sales are widely advertised through public notices, media announcements, and on appropriate BLM websites, including this one for transactions in Washington County. No application process is provided to promote the sale of public lands. All sales are initiated at the discretion of BLM in response to national policies, land use planning, and coordination with states and local communities. Distribution of sale revenues depends on the sale authority used by BLM for the sale. Authorities include Section 203 of FLPMA (receipts to the U.S. Treasury), the Federal Land Transaction Facilitation Act of 2000 (receipts retained in the local area for land acquisition), or occasional authorities enacted by the U.S. Congress in special legislation created for specific geographic areas (receipts often retained in the local area for land acquisition, resource conservation, and special purposes).
Land exchanges are almost always conducted under the authority of Sections 205, 206, and/or 207 of FLPMA where the BLM must determine that the public interest will be well served by the exchange. Moreover, BLM must find that the values and objectives which federal lands to be conveyed may serve if retained in federal ownership are not more than the values of the non-federal lands and the public objectives they could serve if acquired. By law, exchanges must reflect fair market value for fair market value and may not be completed under acre-for acre transactions. Detailed procedures for conducting land exchanges involving public lands are included in Part 2200 of Title 43 of the Code of Federal Regulations and in BLM Land Exchange Handbook, H-2200-1.  Parties interested in exploring potential land exchanges with BLM may contact BLM realty staffs in the offices where the affected lands are located. Parties should be advised that federal land exchanges are often difficult, costly, and of long duration due to extensive reviews, public scrutiny, and safeguards to protect the public interests. Such transactions should not be entered into lightly or with expectations of quick completion or ready agreement on appraised values. Local experience has shown that years can be anticipated rather than months before settlement can be reached, if at all. The decision whether to enter into a formal exchange transaction rests with the local BLM manager who will consider relative priorities, staff availability, project costs, and prospects for a successful completion.