Federal Land Management:

Consideration of Proposed Alaska Land Exchanges Should Be Discontinued

RCED-88-179: Published: Sep 29, 1988. Publicly Released: Oct 5, 1988.

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In response to a congressional request, GAO evaluated proposed land exchanges between the Department of the Interior and six groups of Alaskan Native corporations to: (1) assess Interior's legal authority to conduct the proposed land exchanges; and (2) examine the processes, assumptions, and methods underlying the exchanges.

GAO found that: (1) Interior had the legal authority to negotiate and administratively approve the proposed exchanges at the time it developed the proposals; (2) legislation passed in 1988 prohibited Interior from conveying interests in lands within the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) without prior legislative approval; (3) 76 percent of the lands that the government would acquire would provide limited wildlife and habitat protection benefits; and (4) about 279,000 acres were low priority or unsuitable for acquisition, about 349,000 acres were already protected from uses inconsistent with wildlife refuge purposes, and Interior would not acquire about 53,000 acres most threatened by subsurface mineral development. GAO also found that Interior: (1) appraised the fair market value of the proposed exchanges at $90 million, but negotiated a price of $539 million due to their environmental or public-interest value; (2) assigned values to the tracts based on limited geologic information and uncertain economic data; and (3) did not have oil and gas well data within ANWR or access to data from the one well in ANWR that one of the Native corporation's oil company affiliates drilled.

Matter for Congressional Consideration

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Secretary of the Interior has decided to discontinue consideration of these Alaskan land exchanges.

    Matter: If the Secretary of the Interior decides to proceed with the proposed exchanges and presents them to Congress for approval, Congress should disapprove them.

Recommendation for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: By discontinuing consideration of these land exchanges in ANWR, the federal government will not lose land in its coastal plain, considered by experts as the most promising on-shore oil and gas exploration area in the United States. The net value for these land exchanges was $450 million.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of the Interior should discontinue consideration of the proposed land exchanges.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Interior


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