Uintas deal closes | ParkRecord.com

Uintas deal closes

The purchase of 4,326 acres of land from Anadarko Petroleum Corporation near the Wasatch-Cache National Forest has more than doubled the amount of property the U.S. Forest hopes to preserve by buying land in the Uintas left over from construction of the transcontinental railroad.

"The project meshes perfectly with the goals of the Land and Water Conservation Fund, the National Forest and Summit County," U.S. Sen. Bob Bennett, R-Utah, states in a U.S. Forest Service press release. "The purchase of these lands will ensure public access as well as protect these natural resources for current and future generations."

Situated near the Mirror Lake Highway in Summit County, about 28 miles southeast of Evanston, Wyo., on the Uintas’ North Slope, the property provides critical habitat for elk, moose, deer, Bonneville and Colorado cutthroat trout, according to Steve Ryberg, a U.S. Forest Service district ranger in Evanston.

But potential development of cabins in the area threatened the land until Anadarko agreed to allow the government to purchase the property, Ryberg said.

"This is a great opportunity now because the public will be able to continue to enjoy the use of these lands," he said, adding, "We’ve protected them from being developed."

The acquisition is the second in a series of purchases that began when the federal government bought 3,175 acres of property from other landowners on the Uinta Mountains in 2003. The government provided much of the land, known as "checkerboard" parcels, to Union Pacific in exchange for completion of the transcontinental railroad.

The U.S. Forest Service could complete the nearly $14 million, 15,000-acre deal when its final transaction with Anadarko Petroleum is completed in 2008, according to Ryberg.

"We are very appreciative of the commitment and support Anadarko has shown to public lands with this purchase," Ryberg said.

"Anadarko could have easily sold the land to one of the many developers who’ve inquired over the years, but they chose to work with us."

People have recreated on the land for years as if it has belonged to taxpayers, he said, adding that the purchase means the federal government will manage the land in perpetuity.

"[Development] could have really reduced the public access to the National Forest," Ryberg said.

Cabin subdivisions like Manorlands and Uintalands already have developed on the fringes of the Wasatch-Cache National Forest, Ryberg said.

"That’s happening right now," he said, adding that past timber harvesting and oil and natural gas production has occurred on the property purchased this week. "It would be terrible not to have this use of the National Forest."

Anadarko Petroleum spokesman Hank Wood insisted the arrangement is an example of government and industry working together to benefit the environment.

But Anadarko did hang on to mineral rights attached to the property, said Ryberg, adding, "They have the ability to come in and explore for their oil and gas."

"The [County Commission] feels that the land purchase is a wise step forward in preserving large tracts of meaningful land for wildlife and recreational purposes," Summit County Commissioner Sally Elliott said.

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