What do you do when the “big boys” won’t give you your “stuff”? Do you cave, or fight?
That’s the issue with Utah’s lands and House Bill 148, the “Transfer of Public Lands Act”. The feds have our property and we want it. In 2012, the Utah legislature served notice that on January 1, 2015, it intended to take title to, and management of, 31.2 million acres of Utah land that the feds claim—lands presently managed mostly by the Bureau of Land Management and the Forest Service. We aren’t asking for national parks, congressionally designated wilderness areas, military installations or Indian reservations. When we receive these lands we will make them public, unlike the federal government who is shutting us out.
January 1 has come and gone, and the feds still hold title to the land. The federal government claims 66% of Utah, despite its promise to give us our land at statehood, as was done to most other states. We are crying “foul”.
Those who oppose Utah’s move say managing these lands will break our piggy bank. A detailed study by three universities, Utah, Weber State and Utah State, disagrees. This task force considered best to worst case scenarios. It found that the increased revenue to the state from taxes and fees on oil, gas and coal production will cover the state’s land management costs in all but the worst case scenario. In addition, a profit of $100 million to $1 billion yearly will result. If the worst happens, and gas and oil prices do fluctuate, state profits from a renewed timber industry, minerals extraction and grazing, will cover any temporary shortfall.
Opponents say the effort is unreasonable; that we cannot succeed. Why? Other states have done it. In the 1930s, Illinois, Missouri, and several other states united to wrest their commandeered lands from the feds, and Hawaii got federal lands back in 1959. Canada is now returning lands to its provinces, having realized that local control is more economical and effective. Utah has help; eight other states in the same boat have joined us to demand federal fairness. This includes Nevada, 84.5% federally owned, where earlier this year Cliven Bundy focused attention on the issue. There is strength in numbers.
Naysayers claim the transition will be too hard. Nonsense; we are equal to the task. We must be wise, but great rewards await success. Ingenuity is our common ethic.
The most odious objection lectures that the federal government rightfully owns public lands and Utah is in a selfish land grab. Unless they are simply uninformed, these advocates believe the federal government is our master and we are its minions, awaiting crumbs of subsistence. In America, “We, the People” are the masters, not the serfs; the land is not the federal government’s, it is ours. The Constitution says states are equal: “The citizens of each state shall be entitled to all privileges and immunities of citizens in the several states”. (Art IV) It also states the federal government can own state lands only with the consent of the state (Art I, sec 8), and Utah did not agree to give up two-thirds of itself. Eastern and mid-western states own most of their land: Connecticut owns 99.6% and Nebraska owns 98.3%, for instance. Two hundred years of national policy validates Utah’s claim to her lands. There’s been a land grab, all right, but it’s on the other end of the rope pull. Wikipedia preaches falsehood, as well: “The majority of public lands in the United States are held in trust for the American people by the federal government.” That’s warm and fuzzy, unless it’s your property the feds absconded with.
Federal agencies are lousy land managers. They keep people off the land, though commercial and recreational activities thin trees and underbrush and keep the land vigorous. Isolated lands are unhealthy fire hazards every summer. Forest fires are expensive; they destroy wildlife and pollute water supplies. Well-managed lands burn less and cost less to maintain. The state has set wise goals for the land it will manage: create public access and keep the land healthy and productive. Land is for people to use and historically people have used it wisely and well, despite those who grab at exceptions and fear-monger to the contrary.
The federal behemoth won’t willingly comply and we will have to insist, but the gain is worthy of the effort. The possibilities are exciting! When enterprising people have access to land, history proves that wonderful things happen. Freedom and ingenuity are a dynamic duo for prosperity.
Local people best manage local lands. According to the American Lands Council, the tip of the spear in this endeavor, “Control over land is one of the most fundamental rights of the states.” In 2013, the Supreme Court, with Chief Justice John Roberts as voice, made that point, as it reinforced and reiterated a Supreme Court decision from 1911: “…our nation ‘was and is a union of states, equal in power…the constitutional equality of the states is essential to the harmonious operation of the scheme upon which the Republic was organized.’” We deserve to be treated equally with our sister states on this as on any other matter.
January 1 has come and gone and “our federal partner has by inaction shown that it has not intended to work with us in good faith,” says Utah State Representative Ken Ivory, who spearheads the movement. Now comes the hard part where we insist. Ivory says our path leads through “education, negotiations, legislation and litigation”. Foes will bewail the costs and predict failure. Your voice is needed. Visit www.americanlandscouncil.org and sign their petition. Get involved, make yourself heard.