Santini-Burton Purchase Program

National Forest Land Acquisitions in the Lake Tahoe Basin

The Lake Tahoe Basin, encompassing over 160,000 acres and containing portions of the Eldorado and Tahoe National Forests in California and the Toiyabe National Forest in Nevada, has been the focus of Federal land acquisition efforts for many years.


Evolution of Public Land Acquisition in the Lake Tahoe Basin

The first public lands in the Lake Tahoe Basin were established in 1899 as the Lake Tahoe Forest Reserve totaling 37,000 acres with no lakefront property. Public acquisitions progressed slowly until the 1960s when large tracts were acquired through land exchanges. Purchases through the "Land and Water Conservation Fund" became a significant factor in the 1970s. Today, land acquisitions continue through various donation, purchase, and exchange authorities. Approximately 18% of the 72 mile shoreline are federally owned.


The Santini-Burton Act

Congress passed Public Law 96-586, defined as the Santini-Burton Act, on December 23, 1980. In passing the Act, Congress declared that the environmental quality of the Lake Tahoe Basin was jeopardized by over-development of sensitive lands and that the unique character of the Lake Tahoe Basin is of national significance deserving further protection. The passage marked a major commitment and emphasis by the Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit in land acquisition and watershed restoration focused on protecting and restoring the environmental quality of Lake Tahoe. Specific provisions in the Act directed the Forest Service to

  1. acquire environmentally sensitive land
  2. restore watersheds on acquired National Forest Systems lands
  3. administer erosion control grants to units of local government.

The Act authorized the Forest Service to acquire, by purchase and donation, sensitive lands in the Lake Tahoe Basin. Receipts from the sale of surplus Federal land in the Las Vegas area, to be advanced through the Land and Water Conservation Fund, were earmarked for the purchases.


Ariel photo looking down on the contrasting turquoise and deep blue waters of Secret Harbor.  A whi

Properties eligible for purchase under the Act are wetlands, stream environment zones, or steep and fragile lands. It took about 1 ½ years to complete the requiring planning phases, with the first acquisition recording in October 1982. To date, over 3,500 parcels (or Urban Lots) totaling 13,000 acres valued at $105 million have been acquired under the authority of the Santini-Burton Act. Some recent significant acquisitions include more than half a mile of lakefront and acreage at Secret Harbor, approximately 300 feet of beachfront on the south shore, and several large acreage parcels adjacent to existing National Forest System lands in the Kingsbury area.


Payment in Lieu of Taxes

Included in the Santini-Burton Act is a provision authorizing special payments to compensate counties in the Lake Tahoe Basin for tax losses attributable to the Federal land purchases. The provision allows the county to receive an amount equal to the property taxes paid in the year preceding the land purchase. Such "in-lieu" payments are authorized for five (5) years following the acquisition.


Erosion Control Grants

A provision of the Santini-Burton Act authorized a sum equal to 15 percent of the acquisition dollars for erosion control grants to local governments. Allocations to the five local jurisdictions are proportionate to the acres acquired under the Act. Over $16 million have been appropriated for these grants, funding in whole or in part over 80 water quality improvement projects.


Southern Nevada Public Land Management Act

SNPLMA passed in 1998 and authorized the sale of public lands in a broad area around Las Vegas to fund land purchase and other conservation and recreation projects in Nevada.  Money from the sales is managed by the Bureau of Land Management directly and funding for projects and purchases does not require Congressional action.  The various proposals for use of the money must compete for funding from the sale proceeds.  The original area set aside for the Santini-Burton program is included under SNPLMA.  Under SNPLMA money from additional sales in the Santini-Burton area are specifically earmarked for land purchases on the LTBMU.  Sale proceeds are set aside in an interest bearing account.  The criteria for purchases on the LTBMU under SNPLMA are the same as under the Santini-Burton act.  Use of these funds is not restricted to purchases in Nevada.


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