By Joseph Guinto
Under a federal law, the BLM, an arm of the Department of the Interior, has begun buying private properties that carve into federal wildlife refuges, national parks, national forests, and their ilk, making those lands difficult to access or manage. Though the law — the Federal Land Transaction Facilitation Act — was passed in 2000, federal agencies had not used it to make a land acquisition until this fall. In September, the BLM, working with the Forest Service, the National Park Service, and the Fish and Wildlife Service, offered $18 million to snap up 19 parcels of private land in seven states. Overall, some 9,000 acres of land were acquired in New Mexico, Idaho, Arizona, Colorado, Wyoming, Oregon, and California.
The last of those states provides a good example of the law’s intent. The BLM and other agencies spent $850,000 to buy 321 acres near the Coachella Valley Fringe-toed Lizard Preserve, a tongue-twisting federal wildlife refuge near Palm Springs. The preserve features both sand dunes and rocky hills and is home to the threatened fringe-toed lizard, which is found nowhere else in the world. The reason the BLM wanted the land was that it separated the preserve from the Joshua Tree National Park.
The equally tongue-twisting Federal Land Transaction Facilitation Act can also work the other way around. In cases where federal lands are isolated by surrounding private properties, making them of little value to the government, the BLM can offer those parcels for sale. It can also sell off lands that have clear residential or commercial worth. The BLM has made $95 million from such sales so far.
Most of that money is required to go to further land acquisitions, like the purchases the BLM made in September. “These purchases promote conservation while helping ensure efficient and effective public lands management,” said Lynn Scarlett, deputy secretary of the U.S. Department of the Interior, during the dedication ceremony for the Coachella Valley property.
And if you’re wondering: No, this is not eminent domain. The act stipulates that government agencies only buy property from willing sellers.