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Researchers, Lawmakers Present Federal Lands Study

Dennis Stock

State lawmakers, in conjunction with university researchers, held a town hall meeting Thursday concerning a study on the economic effects of a public lands transfer.

In 2012, the Utah Legislature passed H.B. 148 ordering the Federal government to relinquish 31 million acres of federally owned public land back to the state by December 2014. H.B. 142, passed the following year, authorized a study to determine whether a transfer this size would be economically viable.

Utah State University Professor Paul Jakus, one of the researchers involved in the three-university study, said the transfer could go either way.

"Given the state's desire to finance the management of these lands using revenue raised from the land, that would be essentially tied to commodity prices -- that is the price of oil, the price of gas," said Jakus. "If prices are high, then, in fact, the can generate the revenues necessary to manage the land. If prices are low, then, in fact, we would have trouble covering those expenses. Really, what it boils down to is your appetite for fiscal risk."

Thursday’s town hall was organized to provide objective analysis on the public lands issue.

"We were just trying to give an unbiased analysis merely of the costs involved," said John Downen, senior research analyst at the University of Utah's Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute. "We weren't getting into whether or into a transfer was a good idea; how a transfer would happen. It was strictly looking at the cost of managing the land and potential revenues."

Still, there were several fiery comments and questions from the audience. Cache County Rep. Ed Redd saw that as a good thing.

“If people are passionate about something then they should voice their passion," said Redd. "I like people coming here and telling me what they think, and if they’re upset with me then I need to hear about that too because it makes a difference in how we function at the state legislature.”

Kelton Muck, a Cache Valley citizen who attended the meeting, felt the presentation of the study was unbiased and informative.

“I hope this is a newer face of politics emerging from the extreme partisanship that you see reflected at all levels of government," said Muck. "I think this is the core of what old American politics looks like. Although people can get frustrated by it still, it’s definitely -- at least -- forward-moving rather than just a back and forth.”