Friday, October 16, 1998

Trading Away the West Photo Tour

Part 1 / The Corporations
Government land trades leave questions about how public fared
Land exchanges between the federal government and private companies many times aren't fair to the public. A Seattle Times investigation has found these transactions are routinely manipulated by special interests behind closed doors. The manipulators include not only large companies such as Weyerhaeuser, but also land speculators, politicians, even environmental groups.

Crown Pacific gets land despite last-minute revelations
Old-growth forest in the Northwest is zealously guarded by hikers, hunters and environmentalists bent on preserving what's left after a century of logging and development. So it caused a stir here when the U.S. Forest Service proposed trading 31,000 acres of national forest - including 4,000 acres of old-growth - to a timber company.

Mining Company has close times with government in land exchange
The law says the federal government may not trade away the taxpayers' land unless the public interest is being served.

Part 2 / The Speculators
Private owners play games of backcountry speculation
In his line of work, Jim Dunn, a local land manager for the U.S. Forest Service, hears plenty of threats. So word that someone planned to build a luxury home smack in the middle of federally protected wilderness seemed like just more tall talk. Until the helicopter came

Millionaire, forest official want a swap; public goes 'ballistic'
Millionaire Spencer Kirk wanted his own mountain hideaway where he and his family could commune comfortably with nature.

Even man who profited agrees: 'The taxpayers got screwed here'
Don't get him wrong: Til Hazel is not saying he regrets making a 1,000 percent profit on a real-estate deal.

How a typical land trade works

Part 3 / The Environmentalists
Environmental groups profit from land trades
Harriet Burgess' nonprofit organization has tony offices in one of the nation's highest-rent neighborhoods, with an across-the-street view of the pyramidic Transamerica Building. Burgess' nonprofit does almost no fund raising, yet it covers annual operating costs of $2 million. Burgess' nonprofit pays her $118,000 a year.

Third parties often are key to land swaps
Without the Trust for Public Land, it's doubtful there would be a Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area.

Part 4 / The Bureaucrats
Federal appraisers sometimes find their decisions mean trouble
Value for value. That's the heart of any trade, be it kids swapping Beanie Babies, teams swapping baseball players or federal bureaucrats swapping land with private owners.

When push comes to shove, it's often public appraisers who get moved
There's little incentive for federal bureaucrats to stand in the way of land deals they don't like.

Judge says Wyoming appraisals failed the test of impartiality
If you were buying property, would you accept the seller's appraisal?

Part 5 / The Politicians
How congressional pressure can sway land exchanges
When U.S. Forest Service officials in Utah decided they would trade a businessman 220 acres of public land so he could build a ski resort, almost nobody was happy.

Arkansas land trade sails through with senator's help
When Weyerhaeuser, the U.S. Forest Service and a U.S. senator hatched a plan for the largest land trade in Forest Service history, they worked out the details in as relaxed a fashion as if they had just emerged from one of the steamy, mineral-water baths for which Hot Springs, Ark. gets its name.

Low on money, feds rely on barter system
Set up in 1964 by Sen. Henry Jackson of Washington, the federal land-buying program has been so underfinanced and ignored for the past two decades that the government has been able to buy only a fraction of what it purchased in the 1960s and '70s.

Part 6 / The Future
After two years of wrangling, decision on massive Plum Creek trade nears
Through two years of negotiating, Plum Creek Timber has offered the U.S. Forest Service a simple choice: complete a trade for 60,000 acres of the company's land by the end of 1998, or Plum Creek will start logging it. As the deadline approaches, the company is still waiting for the answer.

Details of proposed Plum Creek land exchange

Possible solutions to land-trade problems
Even with all the problems and abuse in the federal land-exchange program, Congress is considering relaxing the laws that govern trades, not firming them up.

About this series
Want to express your thoughts on land trades? Here's who to contact

Who worked on this series

Reprints of series available

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