Officials from 14 states who favor state control of federal land within their boundaries just wrapped up a three-day conference in Utah. They believe their movement to take ownership of public lands is gaining momentum.
The American Lands Council includes state and local elected officials and others who support the idea of transferring ownership of public lands now controlled by the federal government to the states. The group was started by Ken Ivory, the Utah legislator who sponsored the state law demanding the federal government turn over title to its lands in Utah by the end of the year.
The Council adopted a public policy statement at its meeting in Salt Lake City saying these lands should remain in public ownership by the states, rather than being sold off to private interests. Republican State Senator Jennifer Fielding of Montana told reporters as the conference ended that states can do a much better job of managing public lands.
“Safeguards can be put into place to protect the lands from privatization," she says. "Those are discussions that we will have state by state going forward. There are cases where it may make sense for small parcels to be transferred to private ownership, but only by consent of the people.”
Jennifer Goad with the Center for Western Priorities is skeptical about the states’ ability to keep that promise even if they wanted to.
“I think there are major questions about how the state could afford the costs of managing national public lands, which range from the costs of fighting and preventing wildfires to managing energy development to managing recreation, of which Utah has a huge recreation economy on federal public lands,” she says.
A recent poll done by Utah Policy dot com shows that a majority of Utah voters support the state’s effort to take control of public lands and also support the idea of a lawsuit to achieve that goal.