First and foremost it’s important to understand that Utah has always been a public lands state and always will be. We enjoy unparalleled recreational and scenic opportunities that are the envy of the world. We want people from all over to enjoy and recreate in Utah and contribute to our $8 billion tourism industry.

This is our heritage and it must be protected and never squandered as we think about future generations.

That’s one reason why in 2014 I sponsored the Utah Wilderness Act, the first state act in the country. Modeled after the 1964 U. S. Wilderness Act, it provides a framework for wilderness designation.

The current conversation about who should own and manage Utah’s public lands, 66% of which are owned by the federal government, is nothing new.

Researching the issue, I determined that the people of Utah, through their elected leaders, have been fighting to be treated the same as states east of Colorado since statehood in 1896. Today’s Transfer of Public Lands movement is just the latest incarnation of The Sagebrush Rebellion but has been brought to a head because of the acute lack of resources afforded our federal partners, such as the Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service, to adequately manage their vast assets. The management of federal lands has become significantly constrained by

Range photo: © cboswell/depositphoto, Camping photo: © Alex ishchenko/depositphoto, Mule deer photo: © adogslifephoto/depositphoto

restrictive policies and regulations and the fact that our U.S. Government is some $20 trillion in debt.

By the way, it’s important to note that in the effort to obtain Utah’s federal public lands the national parks, monuments, wilderness, recreation areas and national historic sites are exempt and should always remain under federal ownership and management.

But, there are some 30 million acres of BLM and U.S. Forest Service Land that should be managed by those closest to it and not by a bureaucracy some 2,000 miles away.

Federal land management employees are outstanding professionals and have close, working relationships with their sister agencies in the state of Utah. That’s not the point.

The point is that the 11 western states including Alaska have been treated differently than the other 39 states and until something changes we’ll always be second class at least in this area.

Unless that day comes when we can more productively manage Utah’s public lands (and that does not translate into a land grab or a sell off), we’ll never be able to adequately fund public education. That’s my main interest in supporting this effort.

It will be a long struggle engaged in negotiation, legislation, and possibly litigation but well worth it in the end!


© 2016 Stephen G. Handy • Paid for by friends of Steve Handy.

Let’s talk about public lands.