We appreciate the coverage of the recently completed Eagle Valley Land Exchange, which was one of the most complex land exchanges in Colorado's history, and is truly a major accomplishment.
Since this is not the last land exchange that will take place locally, I'd like to take this opportunity to clarify some of the information provided in the Nov. 12 edition of the Vail Daily ("Land exchange finishes decade of work").
The story states that national forest lands "belong to the Forest Service." In actuality, they belong to all of us, the people of the United States. The Forest Service is simply the agency charged by Congress with the stewardship of those lands for the benefit of the people.
There is another statement, that "'disposal' means 'sell' to just about any buyer with the cash or property of the same value to trade." While there is a law that allows for sale of unneeded administrative sites (such as offices, which are technically not part of the public land base), there is no authority whatsoever to sell national forest lands "to just about any buyer with the cash," as stated. There are strict requirements that must be met before any of our public lands may be conveyed.
For example, by regulation, land exchanges may only be considered after a determination that it is in the public interest. This must include consideration of the opportunity to achieve better management of federal lands, to meet the needs of state and local residents and their economies, and to secure objectives such as the protection of fish and wildlife habitat, cultural resources, watersheds, recreation opportunities and more.
Simply put, public land only leaves the national forest system under certain specific circumstances, after extensive review, including open public participation and following a determination that it would be in the broad public interest.
Additionally, land exchanges do not have to work out "to the penny." There are mechanisms to allow for cash equalization within 25 percent of the appraised value.
Appraisals are conducted by independent contract appraisers using industry standards, and are accepted by a Forest Service review appraiser as valid or not valid. Once accepted, appraisals are good for one full year - a much longer timeframe than most real estate appraisals.
Finally, I simply must disagree with the statement that "There's a difference between 'public land' and 'protected land.'" The national forests were created more than 100 years ago for the use and enjoyment of the people of the United States. They provide our drinking water, incredible recreation and wilderness resources, fish and wildlife habitat, a renewable and sustainable supply of wood products and forage, and many other values - values we are so accustomed to that we often take them for granted.
While not everyone will agree with every management action taken, those actions are driven by laws designed with specific intent, and they have allowed for the most significant protection of natural resources in human history.
This country has an unparalleled legacy of conservation, and the system of public lands, managed for a variety of uses and benefits, are a fundamental component of the quality of life we enjoy across this nation and, very specifically, here in Colorado.
Public lands are protected lands, for all of us, and for the future.
My thanks to the Vail Daily for sharing the news of this recent success, and to all those individuals and organizations who have worked so hard for so long to achieve the success of the Eagle Valley Land Exchange.
David Neely is the district ranger for the Eagle-Holy Cross Ranger District of the White River national forest.