The Santa Rosa and San Jacinto Mountains National Monument in California. Photo: Bob Wick / Bureau of Land Management
Environment | National

Agua Caliente Band secures approval of land swap after long wait

It's taken longer than expected but the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians finally secured approval of a land swap with the federal government.

The Bureau of Land Management announced the approval on Thursday. The swap will reduce the "checkerboard" pattern of tribal and federal ownership within the Santa Rosa and San Jacinto Mountains National Monument in southern California.

"It’s an integral part of the long-standing cooperative agreement between the United States and the tribe that helped create the San Jacinto and Santa Rosa Mountains National Monument," Chairman Jeff L. Grubbe said in a BLM release. "The United States recognizes the tribe's successful history in managing land and resources."

The swap has been in the works for nearly decades. Efforts began after the creation of the monument in 2000 in order to help the tribe and the BLM better manage the lands there.

In 2010, the BLM began soliciting public input on a proposed exchange. But the process moved slowly as the agency faced criticism from hiking groups who were concerned about access to certain trails.

After four years of work, the BLM finally issued a draft environmental impact statement for the swap in 2014. Some three years later, the final document is being published.

“The land exchange provides a public benefit by consolidating lands within the monument, while enhancing opportunities for public recreation and facilitating more efficient land management,” said BLM field manager Doug Herrema.

Despite the long wait, the process isn't quite complete. The final environmental impact statement is open to 45 days of public comments. Sometime after that, the BLM plans to issue a record of decision to approve the swap.

The exchange calls for the BLM to trade 2,560 acres for the tribe's 1,471 acres. The acreages aren't exact because the swap is based on the value of the lands -- the tribal parcels are more valuable and are easier for the BLM to access.

In light of the differing values, the BLM also will make a $50,000 payment to the tribe.

The swap, as originally proposed, would have called for the BLM to consider transferring another 3,253 acres to the tribe. But that acreage will remain in federal ownership.

A formal notice of the final environmental impact statement is being published in the Federal Register on Friday.

Forthcoming Federal Register Notice:
Notice of Availability of Final Environmental Impact Statement and Notice of Decision for Proposed Land Exchange between the Bureau of Land Management and Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians, California (To Be Published January 26, 2018)

Related Stories:
Jeff Grubbe: Agua Caliente Band has long history of stewardship (February 2, 2015)
BLM still working on draft report for Agua Caliente land swap (February 5, 2014)
BLM sets public meetings for Agua Caliente Band land swap (March 7, 2012)
Hikers upset over land swap between Agua Caliente Band and BLM (November 4, 2010)
BLM extends public comment on Agua Caliente land deal again (October 26, 2010)