Government Patching Up Public Lands
August 31, 2007 - 6:57pm By JOHN HEILPRIN
Associated Press Writer WASHINGTON (AP) - The government is buying 9,000 acres in seven Western states, the first such purchases under a 2000 law intended to help land managers patch up fragmented national parks, forests, refuges and other public lands. Among the 19 places being purchased for $18 million from private landowners are lands around the Coachella Valley in California, the North Platte River in Wyoming, the Santa Fe River in New Mexico and the Snake River in Idaho. Other states where the government is buying lands under this program are Arizona, Colorado and Oregon. The lands will be added to those overseen by the Bureau of Land Management, Fish and Wildlife Service and National Park Service, all part of the Interior Department, and by the Forest Service, part of the Agriculture Department. Officials say the purchases also will help protect bighorn sheep, desert tortoises and other species, along with recreation and cultural resources like hiking trails and prehistoric rock paintings.
Approximately $850,000 of these funds are going toward the acquisition of the 321 acres in the Joshua Hills being added to the Preserve as part of a phased acquisition to provide critical linkage between the Preserve, a BLM Area of Critical Environmental Concern (ACEC), and Joshua Tree National Park.
"What we're increasingly trying to do is to create unfragmented landscapes, and this will help do that," Deputy Interior Secretary Lynn Scarlett said in an interview Friday. Congress established the fund in 2000 to buy private "inholdings" from people willing to sell lands to the government that are surrounded by or next to public ranges, forests, parks or refuges managed by those four agencies. It also authorized those agencies to sell fragmented or isolated parcels that are difficult to manage or other lands close to urban areas that might be better used and valuable for residential or commercial developments. In 2000, BLM identified 3.3 million acres that could be sold off under the program. It manages almost 260 million acres in 12 Western states _ about one-eighth of the land in the United States. BLM figures show that it has raised nearly $95 million from such sales so far, about half of it in Nevada. Of that money, 80 percent by law must be used to buy other public lands; the other 20 percent can be used for BLM administrative costs. But the Bush administration, eyeing the possibility of $350 million in BLM land sales, has proposed amending the law to let the government use most of the money for deficit reduction, according to The Wilderness Society, an advocacy group. Scarlett urged Congress to reauthorize the 2000 Federal Land Transaction Facilitation Act, which is set to expire in 2010. "It allows us to actually acquire lands for the purposes that the public land agencies exist," she said. "It just uncomplicates matters for them."
Land dedicated to Fringe-toed Lizard Preserve
More than 300 acres of land was dedicated Tuesday to the Coachella Valley Fringe-toed Lizard Preserve.
The 321-acre parcel is part of an 8,880-acre acquisition that serves as a wildlife movement corridor between the preserve and Joshua Tree National Park.
"To me, the biggest part of this is the wildlife corridor that it creates," said Kathy Dice, state parks superintendent for the Salton Sea sector. "It keeps the whole (animal) population healthier."
Deputy Secretary of the U.S. Department of the Interior Lynn Scarlett was on hand for the dedication and said the area is a priority for conservation.
This is "not conservation for a moment, but conservation for an age," Scarlett said.
The $26 million purchase was funded through local, state, federal and nonprofit funding.
The first steps have been taken to classify a 5,000-acre portion of the preserve as a state park, Dice said.
Buford Crites, vice president of the nonprofit group Friends of the Desert Mountains, said conservation efforts such as this are going to set the Coachella Valley apart from other areas suffering from urban sprawl.
The Coachella Valley fringe-toed lizard permit, which allows valley growth while providing protection for the threatened lizard, conditionally was extended until March.
If approved by valley cities and agencies, the broader Coachella Valley Multiple Species Habitat Plan will replace the fringe-toed lizard permit and protect the lizard as well as 26 other species.
The Coachella Valley Association of Governments and Coachella Valley Conservation Commission will consider the multi-species plan in a special meeting Monday.FOR MORE INFO: http://www.coachellavalleypreserve.org/