The Colorado State Land Board and the federal Bureau of Land Management (BLM) are putting together a land swap and Moffat County is first on the list to get the deal going.
Beverly Rave, district manager and statewide project manager for the State Land Board, believes 80,000 to 100,000 acres of land will be swapped by each side depending on the details.
The deal has been the subject of rumors in the area and Rave wants to set the record straight.
"It is just in the initial stages," said Rave. "It is still very, very early in the process. As the project moves forward there will be public meetings and ample opportunity for the public to comment and learn more about the project. It is not our intent to put everything in secretly."
People leasing state land being considered for trade in phase one of the project will receive on Thursday a letter from the land board notifying them of possible changes. In the letter, Rave states, "Although nothing has been finalized, yet, I wanted to let you know at the outset that if the exchange occurs as it is now configured either Bureau of Land Management (BLM) or the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) will acquire the state trust land you lease subject to your current lease with us," stated Rave. "Your current lease would remain in effect until its termination date, at which point you would receive preferential treatment for a permit with the BLM or USFS."
According to Rave, the motivation behind the land swap is to make state trust lands and BLM lands more congruent. She said this deal has nothing to do with the recently proposed expansion of Dinosaur National Monument.
"The land that we're exchanging statewide is isolated parcels of state trust land surrounded by federal land," said Rave. "We would be acquiring blocks of federal land around existing state trust lands. It has nothing to do with anything at Dinosaur National Monument."
Many of these isolated parcels come as one section from each township that was donated to the state trust for schools.
The first phase of the project is taking place in several counties, but the majority of the land involved lies in Moffat County. Two of the largest sections of land the state may acquire from the BLM are located north of Craig and one is located south of Maybell. They are listed as: 22,280 acres at Dry Gulch, estimated value $3,209,500; 2,000 acres at Bord Gulch, estimated value of $405,250; 14,750 acres at Fourmile, estimated value of $4,331,500; 9,640 acres at Fortification Rocks, estimated value of $2,768,000; 2,880 acres at Fortification Creek, estimated value of $788,000; and 1,120 acres at Oxbow, estimated value of $248,000. The section south of Maybell was also added to the list. The land the state is proposed to acquire from the BLM in the first phase, not including the section south of Maybell, is 51,670 acres at an estimated value of $11,751,000.
Lands proposed to go to the BLM from the state are the WSA adjacent, Little Yampa Canyon adjacent, Moosehead area adjacent, various access needed areas, and Wolf Creek black-footed ferret habitat. These total areas 15,427 acre with an estimated value of $2,401,555. The deal includes existing easement areas and others to enhance access totaling 3,454 acres with an estimated value of $838,104. Sections 16 and 36 adjacent to blocked BLM lands total 14,570 acres with an estimated value of $2,441,500. A total of 33,451 acres at an estimated value of $5,681,160 is proposed to go to the BLM.
The exchange is based on value, not acre-for-acre.
Proposed lands in the swap stand a good chance of changing, according to Rave.
"The list changes on a daily basis," said Rave. "Some parcels are controversial. Right now it is really a moving target."
The land swap is complicated by mineral rights. Some of the surface land is over high concentrations of mineral deposits, complicating the value of the land. According to Rave, the swap will take these values into consideration.
"Once we have the surface values balanced we will try as much as we can to the extent possible to match the mineral values," said Rave.
This means that after the first phase of the project some mineral rights may remain with the original owners of the property.
"In one of the later phases just mineral rights will be exchanged, but for now the mineral rights that don't match up will be retained," said Rave.
The question of mineral rights may impact Moffat County revenue. The federal government pays Moffat County both a cascade formula and a payment in lieu of taxes (PILT) payment to access these minerals. The State Land Trust does not make these payments. This could mean the loss of revenue to the county if the state acquires certain parcels. According to Rave, a payment system similar to the PILT payment or the cascade formula will be worked out with the Moffat County Board of Commissioners in a memo of understanding (MOU) between the commissioners and the State Land Board.
In a list of possible concerns with the land being swapped in Moffat County, the State Land Board states: "The State Land Board will negotiate a memo of understanding with the impacted county to continue to provide the county with at least as much financial benefit as they currently receive from the mineral development and the PILT payment on federal lands."
Moffat County Commissioner Marianna Raftopoulos believes the plan makes sense at least on the map.
"From what I could tell from the map these are parcels that make sense to swap. It consolidates the isolated parcels into tracks that would be able to be more useful," said Raftopoulos.
Commissioners are comfortable with the deal as long as a public process is used and the county continues to receive a payment comparable to the PILT payment.
"We are confident that they will come through with an MOU that ensures a payment similar to the PILT payment that we receive currently and that they will stick to a public process and get public input," said Raftopoulos. "If we can get both of those things, we will be satisfied."
Since BLM lands are normally open to public access while State Trust Lands are usually not, the issue of public access for hunting and other activities has come up. According to Rave, there will most likely not be any change to the public access of the BLM land even when it is turned over to the State Land Trust.
"For the most part we would not change the public access, particularly for hunting," said Rave.
The anticipated land management plan for the land turned over to the State Land Board states: "Representatives from the concerned interest groups to help in creating a management plan that will address the sage grouse use areas, big game winter range, riparian acres, etc. The State Land Board will acquire the parcels subject to the existing BLM permits, including grazing, access, primary term mineral leases, etc. and will maintain the existing federal rates at least for the term of the permits. The State Land Board will work with the grazing permittees to develop a grazing rate that allows continued economic feasibility, good stewardship, and public use of the lands according to the management plan. The State Land Board will continue to allow public use of the land especially for hunting."
Rave believes the land swap should benefit everyone involved, including the public.
"I don't want this project to be anything but beneficial to the State Land Board, the federal government and the public in general," said Rave. "It needs to be a project that benefits everyone."
The State Land Board anticipates the public input process to begin in late May.