SALT LAKE CITY – Nearly two years ago, Gov. Gary Herbert signed legislation demanding the federal government hand over management of 31 million acres of public land by New Year’s Eve 2014. That was Wednesday, and the public lands remain under federal control.
Now that the deadline has passed, the state may pursue litigation over the matter, among other possibilities.
The Transfer of Public Lands Act, also known as House Bill 148, was sponsored by Republican Rep. Ken Ivory, of West Jordan, and ultimately signed into law by the governor on March 23, 2012. The demand to transfer the public lands was outlined and the deadline was set.
Public lands targeted by the legislation are primarily those overseen by the Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Forest Service. National parks and monuments, wilderness areas and tribal lands are exempt. The only exception is the Grand Staircase-Esclante National Monument.
It is estimated that 65 percent of Utah’s overall land is managed by federal agencies.
Ivory told The Washington Times in a Dec. 3 story that if the public lands weren’t turned over by the deadline, the state would pursue a strategy of education, negotiation, legislation and litigation. The Legislature has already set aside $2 million to pursue a potential lawsuit.
According to the Associated Press, a possible lawsuit is being drafted yet may sit for a while as state officials wait to see what progress Utah’s congressional delegation can make concerning the matter.
A spokesman for the U.S. Department of the Interior told the Associated Press Friday that the debate over a public lands transfer is “a waste of time and resources” on Utah’s part.
Opponents of the public lands transfer act, such as the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, have long argued that Utah has no rightful claim to the land and that attempting a so-called “land grab” is unconstitutional. They also say the state doesn’t have enough resources to properly manage the land like federal agencies do.
Supporters have shot back, claiming the lands were originally promised to be returned to state control as outlined in the state’s Enabling Act. They also aren’t buying the assertion that Utah doesn’t have the resources to adequately manage its public lands. HB 148’s supporters point to a recent 784-page economic study that states Utah could profit from managing those lands via revenue garnered from mineral extraction leases.
Combined with other revenue sources generated from the public lands, the study said, Utah could earn an estimated $331.7 million annually, which would offset the projected $280 million cost of managing those lands. However, the study noted that in order to this to happen, oil prices need to remain high, and, presently, they are at a five-year low worldwide.
In Washington County, both county and municipal leaders have shown support for the transferal of public lands to the state. The Washington County Commission and a number of city councils passed resolutions supporting HB 148 in early 2013.
- Economic study: Utah could benefit from managing public lands
- Who should manage public lands? Lockhart, Ivory face off with McCool, Keiter at SUU debate‘Where’s the line?’ Ivory’s crusade to return public lands to the states
- Public lands transfer resolution moving through Washington County
- Gov. Herbert signs public lands transfer act
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