Heinrich, Flake Introduce Legislation To Complete Parks, Wilderness Areas And Increase Revenues For Schools

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. The Advancing Conservation and Education (ACE) Act specifically focuses on state trust land inholdings within the boundaries of federal conservation areas like parks, monuments, and wilderness areas.  

"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 pleased to team up with Senator Flake to introduce this bipartisan legislation that will increase revenues for our public schools and improve access to the outdoor places Westerners hold dear."  

“This legislation truly represents a win-win situation: additional revenue for state land trusts and schools while providing more efficient management of federal land,” said Sen. Flake. “These are both worthwhile goals and when combined represent a genuine opportunity for those in the West.”

The ACE Act has diverse support, including from the Western States Land Commissioners Association and The Wilderness Society.

"This legislation will protect America's parks and wilderness while providing new sources of revenue for our schoolkids. It's a great approach that will benefit land and people. We urge Congress to move this win-win solution as soon as possible," said Paul Spitler, Director of Wilderness Policy at The Wilderness Society.

"The responsibility of our state land commissioners to utilize state trust lands to raise revenue for education is made much more difficult when those lands are surrounded by federal public lands with very different missions and management priorities.  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 Brent Goodrum, President of the Western States Land Commissioners Association.

Background on the ACE Act:

  • Allows states to apply to the Secretary of Interior to relinquish state trust lands located inside a federal conservation area, and select replacement lands of equal value from otherwise unappropriated public lands within the respective states;
  • Once approved, the transaction will follow an expedited process to insure these transactions occur in a streamlined manner;
  • Lands which may be relinquished by the state must be within a federal conservation area under a one of the designations defined in the bill;
  • These transactions must be for equal value.  Costs of these transactions will be shared equally between the State and the Secretary.
  • Public notice and opportunity for comment on proposed conveyances is required, as is analysis of state selections under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). 
  • Grazing rights are grandfathered and appurtenant water rights may be conveyed with the lands.
  • The ACE Act protects traditional cultural properties on public lands, requires tribal consultation, and does not alter the treaty rights of any Indian tribe or affect land held in trust by the Secretary for any Indian tribe.

A copy of the bill is available here.