About Land Exchanges

What is a public land exchange?

Land exchanges are a valuable tool for land management agencies to acquire important and threatened resource lands while conveying public lands that have become difficult, if not impossible, to manage. As a result of reduced appropriations for Land and Water Conservation Fund purchases, land exchanges are a vital way Federal agencies can acquire land while at the same time disposing of property that has few public benefits. In addition, land exchanges offer local communities the opportunity to direct future growth and preserve private lands containing significant local natural, historic and recreational resource values. Land exchanges can be cost effective and offer win-win opportunities for the public.

What is the process for a land exchange?

The Federal land exchange process is designed to insure that the exchange is in the public interest and the appraised values are approximately equal. The public interest determination and valuation processes proceed along separate but parallel tracks.

Federal land exchanges, whether undertaken by the Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, or other Federal agency, have similar although not identical processes. Land exchanges and conveyances involving State lands tend to follow different processes depending on the State. The following is a brief summary of the Federal land exchange process.

The formal exchange process begins the submission of an exchange proposal. While not part of the formal process, informal conferences should be held with the agency prior to submission of the proposal. Items for discussion include the structure of the proposed exchange, the agency’s willingness to process the exchange and the responsibilities of the various parties.

Following submittal, both the Forest Service and BLM require preparation of feasibility analyses addressing the environmental, technical, political issues associated with the proposed exchange. If the Feasibility Analysis concludes that the proposed exchange is likely to serve the public interest, the exchange is allowed to move forward through the balance of the exchange process.

Following approval of the Feasibility Analysis the proponent and the Federal agency execute a non-binding Agreement to Initiate (functional equivalent of a letter of intent) which identifies the lands to be considered for exchange, a timetable for the transaction and a division of responsibilities.

Initial public comment regarding the exchange then begins with a legal notice announcing the proposed exchange. This notice is published in local newspapers and is sent to local and State public officials, including county commissioners, the Congressional delegation, authorized users and others. Comments on the proposed exchange may be submitted to the agency by any person up to 45 days following the initial date of publication.

An environmental analysis of the proposed exchange is then prepared to satisfy the Federal agencies’ obligations under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). This analysis, developed using various environmental reports, agency studies, and public comments discloses the environmental, social and economic impact of the proposed transaction.

Valuation proceeds along on separate but parallel track. FLPMA requires that the value of exchanged lands be equal, adjusted for any difference in value by cash equalization payments up to 25% of the value of the Federal lands to be disposed. Agency regulations require that values for exchange purposes be determined by appraisals prepared in conformance with the uniform Appraisal Standards for Federal Land Acquisitions which was most recently updated in 2000.

Once the public interest determination and valuation processes are completed, the agency issues its Decision. The Decision explains the agency decision to proceed with or deny the exchange. Copies of the Decision are sent to State and local government officials, authorized users of the selected Federal lands, the Congressional delegation and interested parties.

Following a decision to proceed with the land exchange, the agency and proponent may enter into a binding Exchange Agreement. The Exchange Agreement identifies the properties to be exchanged, encumbrances, cash equalization payments that may be required to complete the exchange, the agreed upon values of the involved lands, a description of the goods and services, and other responsibilities of the proponent and the agency.

Final title reports are then requested and closing documents are prepared.