‘Transfer of Public Lands Act’ demands Washington relinquish 31.2 million acres by Dec. 31
In three weeks, Utah intends to seize control of 31.2 million acres of its own land now under the control of the federal government. At least, that’s the plan.
In an unprecedented challenge to federal dominance of Western state lands, Utah Gov. Gary Herbert in 2012 signed the “Transfer of Public Lands Act,” which demands that Washington relinquish its hold on the land, which represents more than half of the state’s 54.3 million acres, by Dec. 31.
So far, however, the federal government hasn’t given any indication that it plans to cooperate. Still, state Rep. Ken Ivory, who sponsored the legislation, isn’t deterred.
“That’s what you do any time you’re negotiating with a partner. You set a date,” said Mr. Ivory. “Unfortunately, our federal partner has decided they don’t want to negotiate in good faith. So we’ll move forward with the four-step plan that the governor laid out.”
In other words, there won’t be any escorting of federal officials by state troopers to the eastern border. Instead, he said, state officials will proceed with a program of education, negotiation, legislation and litigation.
“We’re going to move forward and use all the resources at our disposal,” said Mr. Ivory, who also heads the American Lands Council, which advocates the relinquishing of federal lands to the control of the states.
With the 2012 law, Utah placed itself on the cutting edge of the heated debate over public lands in the West. The federal government controls more than 50 percent of the land west of Kansas — in Utah’s case, it’s 64.5 percent, a situation that has increasingly resulted in tensions across the Rocky Mountain West.
Those in favor of the state taking control of federal lands were buoyed by a report Monday that concluded the idea was financially feasible. Entitled “An Analysis of a Transfer of Federal Lands to the State of Utah,” the 784-page analysis found that Utah was capable of managing that property, now under the control of the Bureau of Land Management and Forest Service.
“I expect that public discussion will be well served by this report. It shows the complexities and connections between Utah’s robust economy and the great quality of life Utahans enjoy,” Mr. Herbert said in a statement.
The report, conducted over 18 months by analysts at three state universities, found that Utah would incur an additional $280 million in costs to manage the lands, but would bring in some $331.7 million in royalties from mineral resources development, mainly oil and gas. Currently Utah receives only half the royalties from drilling that is allowed on federal lands inside its borders.
The study also found that while small amounts of federal ownership could stimulate economic growth in counties, such management becomes a “drag” on most counties after they reach 40 percent to 45 percent ownership, adding that, “twenty of Utah’s 29 counties exceed this threshold.”
On the other side of the debate is the environmental movement, led by the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, which argues that transferring federal lands to state control “makes it harder to protect Utah’s wild lands for all Americans.” Washington, environmentalists argue, is a better steward of Utah’s natural riches than Salt Lake City.