The area is along the archaeologically significant Comb Ridge about 75 miles west of Cortez in San Juan County. According to conservation group Friends of Cedar Mesa, the parcel now is the only privately owned section of the ridge, an 80-mile sandstone monocline stretching from northern Arizona to the Abajo Mountains.
Money from the sale will benefit Utah schools, SITLA said.
“It’s a beautiful place that should be protected permanently, but now it’s private,” Josh Ewing, executive director of Friends of Cedar Mesa, said Thursday.
Locals in Bluff use the area as a “backyard park,” Ewing said. Utah Highway 163 runs along the southern edge and makes the parcel accessible, he said. People in Bluff go out to the area after work for a hike up the ridge, he said.
The parcel, like much of the area, is archaeologically significant because Ancestral Puebloans occupied the area centuries ago, Many Bluff residents had opposed the sale, Ewing said.
“This sale is really distressing to the town of Bluff,” he said.
Ewing said he was not sure of the intentions of the buyers.
The Utah Department of Commerce website lists a South Jordan, Utah address for Lyman Family Farm, with agent Joseph Hunt. The company was registered in June 2014 and is classified as a “vegetable and melon farming” operation, according to the North American Industry Classification System.
Hunt also is president of Air Medical Resource Group, a South Jordan-based air medical service provider, according to that group’s website. The South Jordan address listed for Lyman Family Farm is the same address listed for Air Medical Resource Group.
The parcel is within the 1.9-million-acre area of the proposed Bears Ears National Monument. A tribal coalition has urged President Barack Obama to use his authority under the Antiquities Act to declare the area a monument to protect the cultural and archaeological resources in the area.
However, the Antiquities Act does not extend to private property, Ewing said. Any owner of private land within the monument’s boundaries would retain their land if Obama declares the area a national monument.
At the SITLA auction Wednesday in Salt Lake City, the agency sold more than 3,600 acres of land in seven counties for a total of more than $6.2 million, according to the agency’s website. Lyman Family Farm also bought a parcel in Cave Valley, just west of Zion National Park, for $1.7 million, according to the site.
Legislators across the country, including Utah representatives, have called for a transfer of federal lands back to the states. Ewing said this SITLA sale is a “cautionary tale” of what such a lands transfer might look like.
“I think this is an illustration of what would happen if the states got hold of all those (federal) lands,” Ewing said. “They would sell them off to the highest bidder.”
Calls to SITLA and Joseph Hunt were not immediately returned on Friday.