Two years after the federal Bureau of Land Management sought public input on a proposed land trade with the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians, the agency is still putting together its study looking at the impacts of such a deal.
As The Desert Sun reported in March 2012 following a public meeting in Palm Springs:
The proposed swap would give the tribe about 9.1 square miles of federal lands in the Santa Rosa and San Jacinto National Monument in return for about 2.3 square miles of tribal land, also in the park.
The federal land includes sections of some of the area’s most popular trails, such as the Skyline and Palm Canyon trails, both major draws for residents and tourists from around the world.
Hikers and other fans of the trails feared their access could be cut off if the land moved to tribal control. When the BLM released an initial report in 2010 finding no potential harm from the trade, the ensuing outcry led the agency to backtrack and go through with a new public input process.
When I reached Jim Foote, manager of the Santa Rosa and San Jacinto Mountains National Monument, by phone Monday, he didn’t want to predict when the draft environmental impact statement would be released but he said it would hopefully be out by the end of the year.
An environmental impact study potentially three years in the making? Foote said it’s not unusual. “Projects like this can go on for years,” he said. “They kind of ebb and flow depending on the agency’s priorities and staffing.”
Foote said the environmental impact statement will take into account how the trade could affect natural resources and other features of the land such as the trails. The report is required to also examine the impact of leaving the land with its current owners, he said.