Forest Officials May Parcel Out Land Exchange

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Forest Service officials may trim several hundred acres off their 1,560-acre Payson IV land exchange proposal in anticipation of rising land values.

The Forest Service, which had planned to trade public land in and around Payson for private property in forests across the state, may trade the property in phases to give the land time to increase in value.

"If we break up the land into two or three parcels, and sell them over time, the return to the federal government will be much higher," Forest Service land specialist Rod Byers said.

The new strategy was recommended by a national review team -- a new government oversight committee charged with making sure Uncle Sam gets the best land-exchange bang for the buck.

"One of the major points of contention nationwide has been whether the federal government has been getting fair returns on its land exchanges," Byers said. "In most cases, it has, but in some cases it hasn't.

"The national review team was created to make sure land exchanges meet specialized criteria and the lands being exchanged are appropriate. It's a relatively new level of review, and our land exchanges are some of the first to go through the process."

Regional Forester Ellenor Towns is expected to decide whether to pair down the Payson IV land exchange by the end of April.

Three other land exchanges also are under way in the Rim country -- the 142-acre Star Valley II exchange in Star Valley, the 142-acre Ellison Creek exchange northeast of Payson and the 273-acre Tonto Apache exchange east of the reservation.

Forest officials expect to open the Ellison Creek and Star Valley II exchanges to go to public review this summer after completing environmental studies for both projects.

Land appraisals for the Tonto Apache exchange are under way and will likely be complete by fall, Byers said. The Forest Service could begin its environmental analysis on that exchange sometime this spring.

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