Congressman Bishop and Congressman DeFazio Introduce Landmark Legislation to Advance Education and Conservation
"As a former Utah public school teacher I can attest to the very real funding challenges facing public schools in western states. Among the unintended consequences of previous federal conservation designations are the limitations placed on school trust lands trapped within those areas. Right now it is difficult, if not impossible, to utilize millions of acres intended to support public schools. As a result, public schools are shortchanged out of much-needed revenue. We have an opportunity to fix these issues by exchanging trapped school trust parcels for lands with viable revenue opportunities. In turn we will complete the conservation areas. It's a commonsense solution that most importantly delivers a win for school kids in the West," said Congressman Rob Bishop.
"Conservation designations are critical, but designations trapped in a checkerboard pattern do not provide environmental benefits and they tie the hands of cash-strapped Western states. This bipartisan legislation is a win for those in the conservation community that want to protect our lands, and it's a win for Western states, the federal government, and taxpayers because it consolidates a fractured land base," said Congressman Peter DeFazio.
In the West, many state-owned school trust lands are scattered throughout the state in a "checkerboard" pattern. Congress granted most of these lands to the western states at the time of their statehood with the intent they be held in trust and managed to support public education. Today, the Western States Land Commissioners Association estimates there are more than two million acres of these school parcels located in federal areas managed for conservation, such as National Parks, Wildlife Refuges, and Wilderness areas. As a result, it is difficult, and often impossible, to generate revenue on these school trust parcels because of their inaccessibility and proximity to federally protected places.
Specifically the legislation:
- Allows western states to relinquish ownership of certain land grant parcels located within federal conservation areas to the federal government.
- Allows western states to select certain federal lands in exchange for the relinquishment of the aforementioned land grant parcels.
- All relinquishments and selections must be done in accordance with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).
- All relinquishments and selections must possess equal value so as to protect both state and federal interests.
- Land grant parcels conveyed to the federal government are subject to valid existing rights.
- Existing grazing permits will be recognized by both the federal government or the western state.
Supporters of the bill offered the following statements:
James D. Ogsbury, Executive Director of the Western Governors' Association-
"Western Governors applaud this bipartisan effort to reform the burdensome federal land exchange process that often prevents the completion of sensible and mutually beneficial exchanges."
Kathy Opp, President of the Western States Land Commissioners Association-
"It is important to have this practical tool to better fund education and create value for our beneficiaries, primarily K-12 public education in our states."
Paul Spitler, Director of Wilderness Campaigns for The Wilderness Society-
"This legislation will help preserve America's parks and wilderness while providing states with new sources of revenue for schools. It's a classic ‘win-win.' We applaud Chairman Bishop and Ranking Member DeFazio for their efforts, and hope the Congress will speedily approve this important bill."