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Conservation Toolkit

U.S. Forest Service | Environment and Natural Resources

Land Conservation and Acquisition Tools

Land Exchange

Land Suitable for Land Exchange

Federal, state, and local agencies use land exchange for a number of purposes, including consolidating public land, simplifying federal land boundary management, and acquiring important resource lands. Simply stated, land exchange involves a federal agency trading public land for private land or other governmental land. The exchange is based on the property value, not the acreage, of the lands to be traded. Exchanges do not often result in an acre-for-acre trade. For example, fewer acres of land with mature timber could be traded for more acres with younger trees, because mature trees are more valuable. The value of both the public and private lands is appraised, and when values do not closely match, the federal government may use appropriated funds to equalize the values. In some cases, the private party may donate a portion of their land value either to the government or to a third party, such as a land trust. The agencies follow detailed requirements for a land exchange, including an environmental assessment of the public land that will be traded.

The national forests in Wyoming contain many thousands of acres of private land inholdings as a result of past railroad grants, homesteading laws, and mining patents. In many of Wyoming’s real estate markets, private land inholdings are considered valuable and thus are also vulnerable to development. Land exchanges are a tool to help federal land managers acquire and consolidate key tracts of private land such as inholdings; to protect wildlife and fish habitat, wilderness, recreational opportunities, wetlands, and riparian areas; and to improve legal access and long-term management. Potential land exchanges must be designed carefully to protect important resources and public values and to improve public access to national forest lands.

Large and complex land exchanges may be legislated by Congress. However, most land exchanges are completed through standard agency administrative processes. Under current regulations and policies, considerable time and expense are required to complete the land exchange process, including National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) requirements, public notification and comment, land surveys, appraisals, and title reviews. On average, a land exchange proposal may take three to five years to complete, and it may cost $50,000 to $100,000 to carry out the process. Typically, the costs are shared with the landowner. Given the time and expense, a land exchange proposal must be evaluated carefully to ensure that it is in the public interest and worth both the time and financial investments.


U.S. Forest Service Land for Timber Exchange

The U.S. Forest Service has the ability to exchange timber for land. A land for timber exchange involves the acquisition of non-federal land, or interests in land, in exchange for national forest timber. Land for timber exchanges can be either bipartite or tripartite exchanges. In a bipartite exchange, the United States grants the right to cut national forest timber in exchange for non-federal land or interest in land. Two methods of bipartite exchange exist. The first method involves a non-federal landowner purchasing an existing national forest timber sale. The USFS may then use receipts from the timber sale to acquire land the timber sale purchaser owns.

The second method involves a “direct cutting right,” where the non-federal landowner is given the right to harvest national forest timber outside the competitive timber sale process.

A tripartite land exchange uses federal timber receipts to purchase lands adjacent to national forests. This type of exchange may be used when the non-federal landowner is unable to harvest or use the timber from federal lands. A tripartite exchange involves three parties: the United States, a non-federal landowner, and a timber sale contractor. The contractor pays for and cuts the timber under a timber sale contract. Funding for a tripartite exchange from a timber sale can occur only after satisfaction of National Forest Fund deposits, Knutson-Vandenberg collections, and Salvage Sale Fund requirements. Any receipts remaining in the land exchange suspense account after the closing of a tripartite exchange are deposited in the National Forest Fund.


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Ruckelshaus Institute

Haub School of Environment

and Natural Resources

University of Wyoming

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Phone: (307)766-5080

Fax: (307)766-5099


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