Santa Rosa Conservation Area in New Mexico
The Santa Rosa Conservation Area in New Mexico.  (BLM/Bob Wick)

New Century Brings New Funding for Land Acquisitions

By David Beaver

When the Federal Land Transaction Facilitation Act (FLTFA) passed in July 2000, the BLM was given authority to dispose of lands through sale and exchange and use the receipts for the acquisition of conservation lands within eligible BLM, National Park Service (NPS), U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and U.S. Forest Service-managed units.  Prior to FLTFA, receipts generated from the disposal of lands by the BLM were deposited with the U.S. Treasury to meet the general expenses of the government.  The FLTFA authority has proven to be a boon, with significant additions to lands managed by all the agencies, and the BLM has accomplished many notable land acquisitions.

Canyons of the Ancients National Monument, Colorado

This 164,000-acre rugged, eroded landscape and its remarkable cultural resources have been a focal point of explorers and researchers for more than 125 years.  The monument contains the highest density of cultural resource sites in the nation, with more than 100 sites per square mile.  In some places, more than 6,000 sites are documented and recorded, and an additional 20,000–30,000 sites are predicted.

Site types include cliff dwellings, villages, great kivas, shrines, and petroglyphs.  Many sites have standing walls; 10 are listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and one is a national historic landmark.  The monument is contiguous to three units of Hovenweep National Monument, managed by the NPS.  Approximately 45,000 people visit the area annually.

In November 2009, the BLM, after a long and challenging history of landowner differences, received Secretarial approval to utilize $3.3 million in FLTFA receipts to purchase the 4,573-acre Wallace property.  The Conservation Fund and the National Trust for Historic Preservation played instrumental roles in assisting the BLM with the purchase. 

At the time, the Wallace property (consisting of seven noncontiguous parcels) comprised about 25 percent of the private lands within the monument.  It contains a remarkable array of highly significant cultural resources, including 25 documented and recorded sites.  An additional 700 sites are predicted to exist on the property.  As a result of this acquisition, Jackson’s Castle—one of the most important archaeological sites in the southwestern United States (it was photographed by William Henry Jackson in 1874 and referenced in an 1876 report to the Secretary of the Interior)—and the “Skywatcher Site,” a one-of-a-kind, 1,000-year-old Ancestral Puebloan solstice marker, now contribute to the monument’s interpretative legacy.  Publicity generated by the BLM’s purchase of the Wallace property and a stagnant farm and ranch real estate market triggered neighboring property owners to contact the BLM regarding the potential purchase of their private landholdings within the monument.

Hells Canyon Wilderness, Arizona

This 9,900-acre wilderness preserves a scenic portion of the Hieroglyphic Mountain Range.  Prominent 3,000-foot peaks encircle the area, effectively isolating it from the surrounding countryside.  The wilderness is noted (and named) for a deeply incised and rugged desert canyon with perennial flowing water supporting an important Sonoran Desert habitat, a rare juniper woodland/saguaro cactus ecosystem with thriving bird and mammal populations.  It offers the public opportunities to experience primitive recreation within 20 miles of metropolitan Phoenix.

In June 2007, the BLM sold an isolated parcel of public land on the western outskirts of Phoenix at auction.  The 272-acre parcel, neighboring an expanding gated residential subdivision and crossed by an electric transmission line, sold to the highest bidder for $7 million.  In December 2008, the Secretaries of Agriculture and the Interior jointly approved using $2.9 million of these funds to acquire the 640-acre Brooks property within Hells Canyon Wilderness. 

After the designation of Hells Canyon Wilderness in 1990, the Brooks property (approved for a four-unit residential subdivision by Yavapai County) was the only piece of private property within this wilderness—the proverbial “donut hole” in an otherwise untamed federally managed landscape.  The successful purchase of this single inholding was accomplished following months of complex negotiations between the landowner and The Wilderness Land Trust.  Acquisition of the Brooks property will allow visitors to forever experience a feeling of solitude, a cherished hallmark of wilderness.

Rogue National Wild and Scenic River, Oregon

Originating in Crater Lake National Park, the 215-mile-long Rogue River joins the Pacific Ocean at Gold Beach, Oregon.  Forty-seven miles of the river are administered by the BLM as a national wild and scenic river (NWSR).  Between 1970 and 1980, with more than $10 million from the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) congressional appropriations, the BLM acquired 99 fee parcels and 168 conservation easements on private properties lying within the NWSR boundary to permanently eliminate commercial and residential development.

In May 2007, the BLM received Secretarial approval to utilize $600,000 in FLTFA receipts to purchase the 32-acre Haas property, the last remaining privately owned parcel within the corridor not covered by the comprehensive acquisition program put in motion 40 years ago.  Swift action by The Trust for Public Land in 2006 presented the BLM with the opportunity to consolidate public ownership of the property, requiring an additional $240,000 of land acquisition funding (provided by the LWCF) to complete the fair market value purchase.  The Haas property, locally known as “Winkle Bar,” includes a historic cabin originally built by the American author Zane Grey (a former owner of the property), who made this river the basis of his 1929 novel “Rogue River Feud.”  Acquisition of this property preserves remarkable historic, natural resource, and scenic values for future generations.

David Beaver has been the national program lead for BLM's LWCF and FLTFA land acquisition programs in the Washington Office since 1991.  Prior to that, he worked for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and as a realty specialist in the Great Divide Field Office and a natural resource specialist in the Casper District Office in Wyoming.