By Julie Johansen
Bryan Torgerson, Chris Fausett and Marla Kennedy from the Utah School and Institutional Trust Lands Administration (SITLA) gave a presentation about a potential SITLA and Bureau of Land Management (BLM) land exchange to the Emery County Public Lands Council on Tuesday. They explained how important these exchanges are to growing the amount of funding that goes to Utah schools from SITLA as well as to the economic development in rural communities.
They stated that they have been working on the Bears Ears National Monument land exchange for about one year and feel that they are on favorable terms with the BLM as they work through these exchanges. They are trying to streamline the process, not like the Dingell Act, which is a lengthy process.
Bears Ears is a hot topic and currently has a narrow window of opportunity to complete the land exchange. Land exchanges are becoming increasingly difficult due to the many restrictions on BLM lands, which limit SITLA’s choices. Legislation was presented at the last session of the state legislature but was not passed, so they are hoping that the Legislative Management Committee can make a decision on April 27. They are working fast and furiously and would appreciate the support today.
When questioned about how the choices are made, their response was that they consider value for value but chose parcels that have future potential for profit based on analysis by SITLA’s geologists, real estate development experts and others. SITLA aims to make trades with the BLM to conserve the land and make the best balance possible, avoiding any possible visual impacts.
A request for support from both the Emery County Public Lands Council and Commission in the form of letters was voiced. Another question presented was a concern for grazing rights on the state sections. Torgerson’s reply was that grazers are beneficial to the lands and grazing will be preserved.
Trust Land Funds in the amount of $471,567 were distributed to 10 schools in Emery County. This was Emery County’s share of the record $92.84 million sent to Utah schools in 2021-22 school year. This is especially important because it can be used at the individual school’s discretion.