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Sen. Orrin Hatch will try in 2015 to expand the U.S. Air Force's Utah Test and Training Range while state and local politicians and policy makers negotiate what lands will be traded.

The latest discussions would send the federal government some desert tortoises and state-owned land in exchange for some mining claims to be named later.

That's because the state may ask the federal government to provide it with land that has mining and industrial potential in exchange for state-owned lands around the Air Force training range.

To make up the difference, Utah may give the federal government state-owned land in Washington County that's of little development value because it is habitat for the federally protected desert tortoise, said Kim Christy, deputy director of the Utah School and Institutional Trust Lands Administration.

"Our anticipation is we will use that [desert tortoise] property to offset any value discrepancy," Christy said.

Including lands meant for the slow-moving desert tortoise would be ironic given the Air Force wants to add 700,000 acres to the training range to accommodate its supersonic stealth fighter jet, the F-35.

Hill Air Force Base conducts maintenance on F-35s, and 72 of the jets are to be permanently stationed at the base in 2015. The Air Force has said it needs to expand the Utah training range in order to accommodate the aircraft and weaponry that can be fired at greater distances than its predecessors.

The Air Force also worries about encroachment on the existing training range, which is 2.3 million acres — one-third larger than Delaware — and includes the U.S. Army's Dugway Proving Ground. The Air Force manages all the air space.

The training range sits in Tooele and Box Elder counties. The proposed expansion would push the range south into Juab County. The land discussed for the expansion is a mix of property owned by federal agencies such as the Bureau of Land Management, as well as Utah's SITLA.

Hatch discussed expanding the range through the congressional military budget bill. But the expansion was not included in the final bill.

Hatch's communications director, J.P. Freire, said the expansion was not submitted into the bill because Hatch was still receiving feedback from Utah residents. People wanting to comment can do so at

Freire said Hatch plans to pursue legislation in 2015. Hatch's office also has said the expansion could be accomplished through administrative action where the Obama administration transfers control of the federal land to the military.

"We'll move forward with the plan once we have input from all the stakeholders," Freire said.

Much of the land in the proposed expansion is leased for grazing. At an Oct. 20 meeting in the Juab County community of Partoun, an Air Force representative told residents that grazing would still be permitted in the expanded area — the Air Force does not plan to detonate munitions in the expansion — but there could be temporary closures if aircraft are bombing nearby.

That worries ranchers like Don Anderson, a Callao resident who is president of the Utah Cattlemen's Association. He has no grazing leases in the expansion area, but has neighbors who do.

Anderson wonders if the Air Force appreciates that cellphones often don't work in the west desert and ranchers may not be able to receive the regular updates about closures the Air Force has promised. Anderson also worries the Air Force will close the expansion area altogether due to security concerns.

"If you have another 9/11 or action like that, all bets are off," Anderson said.

Anderson is not necessarily opposed to the expansion. He just wants local residents to have some guarantees.

"We would want to be at the discussion table from the beginning to help ensure our long-term grazing rights are kept secure yet [that we are] supporting the military's needs," Anderson said.

Steve Erickson, the policy advocate for Utah Audubon Council and Utah coordinator for Great Basin Water Network, complimented Hatch for taking more public input, but Erickson also wants an environmental impact statement of the expansion proposal.

He said the expansion could impact grazing, mining claims, water rights, hunting and the California and Oregon trails, but the Air Force hasn't yet justified the benefits of growing the training range.

"Up to now it's just been assertions that we need it without any examination of alternative options," Erickson said.

Twitter: @natecarlisle