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Strategies for Securing Approval of Federal Land Swap Deals


A recent Reuters article highlighted a federal judge's decision to temporarily block a critical land swap necessary for constructing the $649 million Cardinal-Hickory Creek high-voltage line within a Mississippi River National Wildlife Refuge. The judge's injunction, stemming from a lawsuit by multiple environmental groups, underscores the complexity and sensitivity of federal land swap approvals.


Drawing from over 40 years of experience overseeing land swap issues, both within and outside the federal government, it's clear that corporations often stumble in their efforts to secure such approvals. However, there are key strategies that can significantly increase the chances of success:


  1. Align with Federal Agency Missions: One common mistake is failing to align proposed land swaps with the mission of the relevant federal land managing agency. If the agency does not perceive that the exchange contributes to their mission, securing approval becomes nearly impossible.

  2. Adhere to all Requirements and Procedures: There are no shortcuts when it comes to addressing all federal land exchange requirements and public involvement procedures. Failure to comply can lead to legal challenges and project termination.

  3. Employ Expert Guidance: Given the complexity of land exchanges, it's crucial to engage experts to navigate the process. Federal agencies and private entities often lack experience in this area. Hiring a knowledgeable consultant can streamline the process and increase the likelihood of success.

  4. Focus on Resource Value: It's essential to identify lands that hold greater resource value to the federal agency, even if their dollar value is higher. Successful companies emphasize the resource value over the dollar value of the lands involved.

In conclusion, securing approval for federal land swap deals requires meticulous planning, alignment with agency missions, and adherence to all requirements and procedures. Employing expert guidance and emphasizing the resource value of proposed lands can significantly increase the chances of success.


Bill Hartwig 

Senior Advisor


A member of the Dawson team since 2007, Bill formerly served as Chief of the National Wildlife Refuge System at the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.

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