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Congress is poised to approve a massive state-federal West Desert land exchange as part of the proposed 625,643-acre expansion of the Utah Test and Training Range.

The deal would allow the Utah School and Institutional Trust Lands Administration to trade 84,000 acres captured in the expanded military reserve for consolidated blocks of public lands with mineral potential in Box Elder, Tooele, Juab, Millard and Beaver counties.

The exchanges, which must undergo environmental analysis and appraisals, are included in a rider that Utah's Sen. Orrin Hatch attached to the annual National Defense Authorization Act, expected to pass in the coming weeks.

The Bureau of Land Management would relinquish nearly 96,000 acres in the deal. The school trust would also acquire parcels in Beaver County with geothermal resources and a large parcel in Millard County adjacent to a proposed photovoltaic solar facility.

"We have worked closely with [the BLM's] Salt Lake field office to identify potential conflicts," said SITLA's associate director, Kim Christy. "We are optimistic. We feel it's a good move for the schoolchildren of the state."

Withdrawn from Hatch's legislation was a controversial proposal to cede numerous disputed rights of way to the state, drawing a sigh of relief from the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance. Still, the group takes issue with some of the land exchanges because they could lead to extractive industries in wilderness-quality lands.

"While SUWA supports land exchanges that swap sensitive lands for those more suitable for development, in this case, SITLA is exchanging out of some lands that are not considered a conservation priority for areas in [Beaver County's] Cricket and Drum mountains that are proposed for protection in America's Red Rock Wilderness Act," said Jen Ujifusa, SUWA's legislative director. "We are disappointed we were not able to reach the kind of win-win agreement with SITLA that we've seen in past Utah land exchanges."

The test range expansion is contained in six blocks around the range's periphery and a seventh spanning the Newfoundland Mountains at the northwest corner of the range. The U.S. Air Force and Army use these huge swaths of the Great Salt Lake Desert to train pilots and test advanced weapons systems.

SITLA could also give up 6,200 acres of surface or mineral estate in the Cedar Mountain Wilderness, as well as acreage it holds in the Red Cliff National Conservation Area, if needed to equalize appraised value of the BLM holdings it is receiving.