BLM May Profit From Land Sales in the West

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The Bush administration wants to let the Bureau of Land Management use more of the profits from public land sales in the West.

Interior Department officials said Tuesday in Washington that the proposed change in federal law is a small one that will extend and broaden a land disposal program Congress approved in 2000.

The plan would have a limited effect in Clark County, where the Southern Nevada Public Land Management Act of 1998 details how profits from the sale of most BLM land can be spent.

But its effects could be felt in rural Nevada, as the BLM undertakes land use plans in its Ely and Winnemucca field offices, officials said.

Critics said the change would give the BLM more incentive to sell off public land because 40 percent of profits would go to the agency.

"It will create a revolving fund which they can draw on for their operating budget," said Johanna Wald, lands program director at the Natural Resources Defense Council. "These are places that are America's playground where people go to hunt, fish and boat."

The proposal would let the BLM designate profits from the sale of lands that it has identified for disposal since July 25, 2000. Federal law now requires the profits to be deposited into the U.S. treasury.

Twenty percent of sale proceeds would be directed back to the BLM to cover administrative expenses, 20 percent would be earmarked for conservation projects, and 60 percent would be used to buy environmentally sensitive land from private ownership.

"From the standpoint of a land manager, it's a disincentive to go through the hard work of a land sale when you're not enjoying some of the proceeds of your land management goals," Interior Assistant Secretary Lynn Scarlett said in supporting the change.

Scarlett said all potential land disposals would be scrutinized through a public planning process.

Nevada BLM spokeswoman Jo Simpson said the agency is identifying more land for sale in central and northern Nevada.

"As new land use plans are developed, additional or different lands may be identified for disposal that wouldn't qualify for sale under the act as currently written," Simpson said.

Scarlett said the BLM would benefit by having more money for wetlands restoration, wildlife habitat protection, salt cedar eradication and other conservation measures.

She said that in states like Nevada, where about 87 percent of land is controlled by the federal government, less money is needed for land acquisition.