America’s public lands are a central part of our national heritage. The nation’s national parks, national forests and wildlife refuges were carved out of the public lands. They contain some of our most cherished landscapes. We value our public lands for their beauty and inspiration, for hunting, fishing, hiking, camping, bird watching, photography, climbing, biking – these and many other activities are enjoyed by all United States citizens on their public lands.
Unfortunately, if Utah’s legislature has its way, the 31 million acres of public lands within the boundaries of our state would be taken away from the American people and given to the State of Utah. If Utah politicians are successful, Utahns and their fellow Americans will wake up one day to find that their freedom to enjoy our public lands has been seriously eroded. We have a shared responsibility to our children and grandchildren to ensure that our public lands stay in public hands.
The Movement to Keep Public Lands in Public Hands Has Broad Support
According to the latest poll conducted by Colorado College, 47% of Utahns oppose the state’s land grab versus 41% who support it. Among user groups, hunters and anglers are some of the strongest supporters of keeping public lands in public hands.
Taking the “Public” out of Public Lands
One of the egregious aspects of the Book Cliffs oil and gas leasing situation was the complete lack of public involvement. While recently adopted state land legislation gives lip service to gathering public input, Utahns have little legal recourse to compel good decision-making. This is in contrast to the enforcement provisions of federal laws with teeth in them such as the National Environmental Policy Act, The Administrative Procedures Act and the Clean Water Act. These laws provide opportunities based on democratic ideals for meaningful participation for Americans to have a role in decisions affecting their public lands.
Utah Can’t Afford the Financial Burden of Managing Our Public Lands
If Utah were to succeed in taking over our public lands the state would be taking on the cost of managing those lands. Current federal payments to Utah would end. Utah would assume all future wildfire costs which are expected to increase as fire seasons grow longer with climate change. A conservative estimate of additional costs to the Utah taxpayers would be $100 million annually. Those who advocate the land grab say little about how they will pay for managing our public lands once they get their hands on them. That is likely because the only options are to auction them off to the highest bidder and to raise taxes and user fees.
The Problems With Stewardship of Utah State Lands
While federal land management agencies do not always make good decisions, Utah state land management is not based on sound principles. Good land stewardship process has four essential elements:
- Measurable goals for the health of the land and respect of all users are established and recorded in law.
- Decisions on the use of lands are made in a transparent manner.
- Citizens can participate in a meaningful way in the decision-making process.
- This stewardship possesses the ability to hold decision makers accountable for meeting measurable goals for the health of the land and care needed for other uses and values.
The fundamental problem with the way Utah manages state lands – and by extension, the public lands the legislature wants to take over – is that state land management falls far short of adhering to each of the fundamental principles. (Additional information is found here [link].)
History Suggests that America’s Public Lands Are At Risk with Utah’s Land Grab
History provides numerous examples of Utah politicians and other officials actively participating in, encouraging or otherwise condoning harmful decision-making and illegal activity.
Proposed wilderness lands would be at risk. The politicians who dominate Utah’s Legislature have consistently opposed the protection of the nine million-plus acres of wildlands proposed for protection under America’s Redrock Wilderness Act
Utah state and local officials have a poor record of holding looters and vandals accountable. Our public lands contain thousands of precious archeological sites. While federal officials have pursued people who steal and damage these resources, state and local authorities have a poor record of doing so.
Local and state officials have either been guilty of or have condoned illegal behavior. State and local office holders have organized and encouraged illegal activities on public lands, such as the illicit ORV ride in recapture Canyon in 2014.
Utah officials have a history of harmful land management decisions. Utah opposes the current plan to protect sage grouse habitat and has introduced non-native mountain goats where they have not existed for 10,000 years. Likewise, Utah has leased the Book Cliffs State Roadless Area for oil and gas drilling.
Treasured Landscapes are on the Block
Land grab supporters have clearly stated their intention of taking over the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument with its spectacular scenery and rich paleontological resources. They also intend to take over the Glen Canyon and Flaming Gorge National Recreation Areas.
Would you like to help Keep Public Lands in Public Hands? You can by sending a message to your local representatives.
 Keiter, Robert B. and John C. Ruple, The Transfer of Public Lands Movement: Taking the Public Out of Public Lands, S.J. Quinney College of Law research paper No.99