House committee passes public lands bill backed by TWS

By Charlie Booher

A portion of Zion National Park was purchased using FLTFA funds. ©Alexander C. Kafka

The House Natural Resource Committee has passed a bill to reauthorize a program that assists the Bureau of Land Management in resource management on federal lands, funds habitat conservation projects and improves recreational access by connecting federal lands.

If passed on the floor of the House and the Senate, H.B. 5133 would reauthorize the Federal Land Transaction Facilitation Act. The program allows the BLM to sell lands deemed appropriate for disposal during its annual land use planning process, which includes public input sessions. Properties must meet at least one of the following criteria to be considered for disposal:

  1. Lands consisting of scattered, isolated tracts that are difficult or uneconomical to manage.
  2. Lands that were acquired for a specific purpose and are no longer needed for that purpose.
  3. Lands that could serve important public objectives, such as community expansion and economic development, which outweigh other public objectives and values that could be served by retaining the land in federal ownership.

Proceeds from these sales are allocated to a treasury account that was established by FLTFA in 2000. These funds may then be used to purchase other lands from willing sellers.

Land may be purchased within or adjacent to areas managed by the National Park Service, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the U.S. Forest Service and the BLM. All lands bought under the FLTFA are deeded to the BLM. About 29,400 acres have been sold under this law to date and approximately 17,000 acres of lands have been acquired.

First authorized in 2000, the program was allowed to expire in 2011. The committee quickly passed reauthorization, with little debate. FLTFA has historically been hallmarked by bipartisan support.

Last week, TWS and 83 other groups signed a letter to Chairman Rob Bishop, R-Utah, and Ranking Member Raul Grijalva, D-Arizona, in support of reauthorizing FLTFA. The authoring organizations of the letter “support permanently reauthorizing FLTFA this year, to reinstate an incredible western lands tool that benefits the environment and the economy.” The letter emphasizes that this program is especially important for the creation of wildlife habitat corridors.

“With this reauthorization, we improve and expand upon a program that has been a win for conservation, thoughtful land use decisions and greater economic development opportunities across the West,” Bishop told the committee. “The bill also requires BLM to make public land data more accessible and available creating greater public awareness, transparency and local input in future land decisions.”

Charlie Booher is a Policy Communication Intern at The Wildlife Society. Read more of Charlie's articles.