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MAGISTRATE STUDYING MOTION TO DISMISS S. UTAH WILDS SUIT

A government motion to dismiss a lawsuit challenging the transfer of federal land in southern Utah to the state has been taken under advisement by U.S. Magistrate Calvin Gould.

The Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance is asserting in its lawsuit that two tracts of land - 6,700 acres at Harris Wash near Escalante, Garfield County, and 1,280 acres at Lake Powell - were unlawfully transferred to Utah by the Bureau of Land Management.Federal and state lawyers argued that Congress gave the BLM the authority to transfer certain lands to states in satisfaction of school trust land selections not made at statehood. They said the case should be dismissed because there is no cause of action.

Alliance attorney Michael Heyrend said the organization is concerned that proper procedures were not followed and that the state is less likely to preserve the land's archaeological and environmental value.

"How do you know they (the tracts) won't be in better hands in Utah?" Gould asked him.

Heyrend replied that the state has a mandate to maximize the economic value of school trust property, which could lead to development on the environmentally sensitive lands.