United States Forest Washington 14th & Independence SW
Department of Service Office P.O. Box 96090
Agriculture Washington, DC 20090-6090
File Code: 1570-1(L)
Date: August 7, 1997
Ms. Clara Peterson
HC 31, Box 977 CERTIFIED MAIL - R.R.R.
Happy Jack, AZ 86024
Dear Ms. Peterson:
We have completed our review of your June 15, 1997, appeal of the decision made on May 7, 1997, by H. Wayne Thornton, Southwestern Region Director of Lands and Minerals, to proceed with the Starlight Pines land exchange. This review was conducted in accordance with 36 CFR 215 of the Secretary's Appeal Regulations. We received one other appeal of this decision.
On July 7, 1997, Mr. Thornton conducted an informal disposition meeting with you by telephone. No appeal issues were resolved.
In accordance with 36 CFR 215.19, the Appeal Reviewing Officer (ARO) reviewed the appeal record and has provided a written recommendation regarding your appeal. A copy of that recommendation is enclosed.
This decision provides for an exchange of Federal lands in an area with existing development in return for nine separate parcels of private lands located within the Apache (ANF), Coconino (CNF), Kaibab (KNF), Prescott (PNF), and Sitgreaves (SNF) National Forests. In addition, it helps consolidate and facilitate management of the national forest lands, besides adding valuable natural resources to the Federal land base. Under the terms of the exchange, the Forest Service will convey approximately 1,115 acres of Federal land for approximately 1,432 acres of non-Federal land.
You contend that the Federal lands offered in this exchange are not listed in the Land and Resource Management Plan (Forest Plan) for the CNF as "base-in-exchange" lands and that the criteria for considering "out-of-base" lands is ambiguous.
Finding: The Coconino Forest Supervisor explained the base-in-exchange process to you in letters dated September 29, 1992, and October 30, 1992, and provided a copy of page 86 of the Forest Plan which states that lands offered by the United States in a land exchange are tentatively classified as base-in-exchange. Due to local and physical changes during the life of the Forest Plan, other lands may be considered for exchange which will generally meet one or more of six criteria. In addition, the Forest Plans will be amended as necessary to incorporate the lands involved in this exchange (Decision Notice/Finding of No Significant Impact (DN/FONSI), page 8).
The six criteria contained on page 86 of the Forest Plan:
- Lands needed to meet the needs of expanding communities;
- Isolated tracts or scattered parcels that cannot be efficiently managed;
- Lands that provide consolidation to the public lands;
- Lands that will improve management, benefit specific resources, or increase management efficiency;
- Lands that are necessary to meet overriding public needs; and
- Lands within the boundaries of incorporated communities or annexed thereto.
Information contained in the DN/FONSI indicates the Federal lands in this exchange fall within two of those guidelines: lands needed to meet the needs of expanding communities; and lands that will improve management, benefit specific resources, or increase management efficiency. The proposal is consistent with objectives of the Forest Plans of the five affected National Forests for landownership adjustments in order to reduce management conflict, acquire valuable resources, and to meet the needs of community growth (EA, page 3).
Although the guidelines were not designed specifically to apply to non-Federal lands, the criteria may be used to define the benefits of non-Federal lands considered for acquisition through a land exchange. The DN/FONSI at page 8 states, "[t]he non-Federal land meets the criteria for land acquisition."
In addition to this issue, you expressed a concern about the failure of agency employees to document conversations regarding advertisement for the sale of Federal lands involved in this exchange. Although we understand your frustration over this matter, there is no requirement that verbal communications be documented and placed in the files; and you state
Richard Harris did call you back after he investigated the situation pertaining to Mr. Chitwood's advertisement.
I have considered the arguments presented in your appeal, the administrative record, the ARO's recommendations, and applicable laws, regulations, and Forest Service policies on land exchanges and find Mr. Thornton's decision to be reasonable and consistent with policy, regulation, and law.
Accordingly, Mr. Thornton's May 7, 1997, decision to proceed with the Starlight Pines land exchange is affirmed.
This decision on your appeal constitutes the final administrative determination of the Department of Agriculture (36 CFR 215.18).
/s/ Gerald Coghlan
JANICE H. MCDOUGLE
Appeal Deciding Officer