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Washington » The Bureau of Land Management would have to sell off some 132,000 acres of public land in Utah and more than 3 million acres total in the West under legislation Rep. Jason Chaffetz introduced Wednesday.
The Utah Republican's measure orders the Interior secretary to sell all lands identified as excess in a 1997 study by the Clinton administration and sets up a process for 10 states to recoup those parcels for private development.
"There's no doubt in my mind there are certain areas worth saving and protecting and designating as wilderness," Chaffetz said, "but there are some parts of the land that really serve no public purpose, so let's sell them back to private hands."
The BLM is the largest land-holder in the state, managing some 23 million acres, and local officials argue that the huge swaths of public lands shrink their tax base and deprive residents of use of hills and fields they've historically used.
All money from the sale of the public lands would be used to pay off the national debt under Chaffetz's bill.
The BLM declined comment on the bill until it had time to review the legislation and is asked to testify on Capitol Hill about the measure.
Steve Bloch of the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, however, said Chaffetz's bill should consider a more updated report on what lands are considered surplus because the Clinton administration list is 13 years old.
Bloch added the congressman's plan skips any assessment to see if there are any cultural or intrinsic values or wildlife habitats that need to be preserved.
"It seems like it's short-circuiting and in an unhelpful way," Bloch said. "The BLM is not in the business of selling lands and so there needs to be a demand from the public to acquire the parcel and there should be steps to determine the current valuation and to identify what the resources are."
Chaffetz bill would require BLM to sell surplus land