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Western land exchange appraisals open

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  1. Freedom of Information

    NMU         IDAHO         Freedom of Information         Aug 4, 2000    

Western land exchange appraisals open

  • The appraisals of private land considered for exchange with the federal government are public records, a federal judge ruled in mid-July, rejecting agency claims that the information was “highly personal” and subject to the Freedom of Information Act’s privacy exemption.

A federal District Court in Boise in late July ordered the U.S. Forest Service to open appraisal records on private lands considered for land exchanges and rejected its argument that appraisals of private land for sale on the open market would be “highly personal” and therefore exempt from the Freedom of Information Act.

Judge Thomas Zilly ruled for the requesters in a FOI Act case brought by the Western Land Exchange, a Seattle-based watchdog organization which tries to ensure that the public does not forfeit valuable federal property in exchange for inferior private holdings.

The group filed a FOI request for appraisal information on 500 acres of private land owned by an individual who had benefitted in the past from land exchanges. The land had been proposed for an exchange for 5,000 acres of Idaho Forest Service lands. Plans for the exchange were abandoned but the group pursued its request.

The Forest Service had provided total rounded appraisals but refused to give appraisals for individual parcels, claiming the information was protected by the privacy exemption to the FOI Act. The Exchange argued that the public had a strong interest in the terms of such exchanges, pointing to mistakes that had badly shortchanged the public that were reported in The Seattle Times and The (Spokane) Statesman Review and in an audit by the General Accounting Office.

(Western Land Exchange v. U.S. Forest Service; counsel: David Bahr, Eugene, Ore.) RD

© 2000 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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