Environment & Public Lands
5:20 pm
Wed May 22, 2013

Group Urges Governor to Bow Out of Federal Land Grab

Activists are calling on Governor Gary Herbert to halt Utah’s efforts to seize control of federal land in the state. Educators, parents and students gathered at Liberty Park this morning to ask state lawmakers to find realistic solutions to funding education and stop taking aim at public lands.  

Ethan Lake is a senior at West High School in Salt Lake City. He says the state is blessed with a beautiful natural environment.

“Anyone who’s been down to the white room trail and seen the Potash facilities  also knows how easy it is for natural lands to be completely ruined by man-made projects seeking to extract short-term profits from something that should be protected for us all," Lake says.

Last year, Governor Herbert signed House Bill 148 into law. It demands the federal government relinquish control of millions of acres of public lands to the state by 2014. And the state is currently in the midst of a legal dispute with the federal government over rights to thousands of paths and roads that cross federal land. 

Under the law passed, a percentage of the revenue generated by the state sale of public lands would be deposited in the state school fund.

But Salt Lake City School Board Member Heather Bennett says that’s a farce. 

“It irks me that they would use public ed as a way to get more support for the seizure of public lands,” Bennett says.

She says the state must explore new revenue sources that won’t exploit Utah’s natural resources, including raising taxes.

“I very much believe that with open dialog, among the various entities, state local federal, we can come to best practices in land management that won’t sacrifice the heritage we have in our public lands.”

On Tuesday, Governor Herbert testified before a congressional subcommittee where he highlighted the federal government’s inability to properly manage national forests and public lands noting National Parks have an estimated $11 billion maintenance backlog.

“The concept of federal/state partnerships is becoming more and more like Bigfoot sightings," Herbert says. "Something frequently reported but rarely seen.”

Roughly two thirds of land in Utah is owned by the Federal Government.