WASHINGTON, D.C. - U.S. Senators Martin Heinrich (D-N.M) and Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) introduced legislation to better facilitate land exchanges between Western state land offices and federal public land agencies, and help increase education revenue. The Advancing Conservation and Education (ACE) Act specifically focuses on state trust land inholdings within the boundaries of federal conservation areas like national parks, monuments, and wilderness areas. The bill maintains existing rights-of-way, mineral and grazing leases, and water rights, and includes protections for tribal cultural sites and Indian treaty rights.
“Inholdings present challenges for both public land managers and state trust land commissioners because differing policies and missions of the respective agencies can lead to conflicts over management. By exchanging state inholdings for land outside of protected areas that is more appropriate for development and more likely to produce revenue, the ACE Act will solidify protections for designated areas like national parks and wilderness while increasing revenues for state trust land beneficiaries like schools and hospitals,” said Sen. Heinrich. “I'm proud to partner with Senator Flake to find bipartisan and pragmatic solutions that will increase revenues for our public schools and improve access to the outdoor places Westerners hold dear.”
“This bill represents an absolute win-win situation. It makes management of federal land more efficient, while providing additional revenue for state land trusts and schools. These are two worthwhile goals that when combined represent a genuine opportunity for those in the West,” said Sen. Flake.
U.S. Representatives Chris Stewart (R-Utah) and Jared Polis (D-Colo.) introduced a companion bill in the House of Representatives.
“This legislation is a win for Utah, a win for school kids, and a win for conservation. Exchanging state inholding for land outside of protected areas will allow states to generate more revenue, provide increased protection, and help support rural economies,” said Rep. Stewart. “The ACE Act proves we can come together to solve complex public land issues.”
“I am pleased that we can collaborate on common sense legislation together as Democrats and Republicans in both the House of Representatives and Senate. By cutting red tape between state land trusts and the federal government, we can protect our most precious wilderness areas, while generating more revenue for local governments and schools that desperately need it,” said Rep. Polis.
In New Mexico, the State Land Office and the Bureau of Land Management recently worked together to initiate a land exchange to allow greater public use of lands within the Rio Grande del Norte National Monument and the Sabinoso Wilderness. This exchange will ensure that these places are fully protected for future generations and provide land for the state land trust that is more appropriate for development.
The ACE Act has diverse support, including from the Western States Land Commissioners Association and The Wilderness Society.
“The ability of our state land commissioners to utilize state trust lands to raise revenue for education is made more difficult when these trust lands are surrounded by federal conservation areas. The ACE Act is a win-win solution that will help our land commissioners better generate badly needed funds for schoolchildren while completing federal conservation areas so that they can be properly protected,” said Harry Birdwell, President, Western States Land Commissioners Association and Secretary of the Commissioners, Oklahoma Land Office.
“This legislation will better secure America's parks and wilderness while supporting rural economies and providing revenue for schools. Through this bill, our public lands will be better protected and school kids will come out ahead,” said Paul Spitler, Director of Wilderness Policy at The Wilderness Society.
A copy of the bill is available here.