“Win-win” bill allows land swaps to benefit conservation and local economies

Grand Teton National Park (Wyoming) contains state inholdings whose development would pollute air and water and damage habitat.

Credit: NPS.

On July 29, The Wilderness Society voiced support for a “win-win” bill to protect outstanding public land, boost local economies and help public schools in testimony before Congress.

The legislation, H.R.4901, would help complete and preserve federally-protected areas by easing the process of swapping state-controlled areas within national parks and wilderness areas. Many of these state-controlled lands were set aside for economic development, like logging and energy extraction.

Expediting the trade of these parcels would solve several problems at once: protected wildlands would be made intact and safe from damaging development, and states would no longer need to try and develop inaccessible lands. Additionally, with states’ efforts to acquire lands with greater development potential expedited, the bill would help lead the way to new revenue for schools and local economies at-large.

“It’s a win-win situation: protected areas like parks and wilderness will be made whole, and states acquire lands better suited to economic development,” said Paul Spitler, The Wilderness Society’s director of wilderness campaigns, who testified before the House Natural Resource Committee’s Subcommittee on Public Lands and Environmental Regulation. “Facilitating such exchanges will help protect the values of the Federal conservation areas, while providing states with new sources of revenue from its lands.”

Many conserved or protected areas have these state-controlled lands spread throughout their overall footprint. Grand Teton National Park has two areas within its borders that are controlled by the state of Wyoming. Accessing them for logging or drilling would damage the park and its environment, while being costly for the state. Under this bill, those acres would be fully incorporated into the park, while the state government would take control over equal acreage elsewhere.

Under the bill, a state would choose inholdings they are willing to trade to the federal government in order to make national parks, wildernesses or other lands whole, then specify a separate piece of federally-owned land as compensation. The lands received by the states in these swaps for development would not include those with high ecological or recreational value, and the Secretary of the Interior would enjoy oversight of the process.

Read The Wilderness Society’s testimony on the bill [PDF]