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Federal lands bid faces in-state opposition.

Tuesday Governor Herbert testified before a congressional subcommittee about Utah’s bid to manage federal public lands in the state. Kim Schuske talked to one of the founders of a group of educators that is against this approach.

Two bills were passed during recent Utah legislative sessions that require the federal government to hand over tens of millions of acres of land or face litigation by Utah. Some of the arguments made during the sessions suggested that Utah owning and managing these lands would bring much needed money for education. Heather Bennett and other educators and community leaders formed the group, For Kids and Lands, in response to this argument.

“You know we have real education funding challenges in Utah. They are not going to be solved by taking on this issue and spending state funds for litigation and if you win increase management costs,” Bennett said. “That doesn’t help fund education. So lets look at real stewardship of public lands, which are important to adults and children, and real solutions, lasting solutions, for public education funding.”

On Tuesday Governor Herbert spoke to the House Natural Resource subcommittee, testifying that Utah is in a better position to manage lands in the state than the federal government.

“Regrettably federal land agencies have demonstrated over and over again the inability to nimbly or creatively respond to current challenges facing our forest or our range lands,” Herbert said.  

He also said that there would be enough money coming in from those public lands for Utah to do the job.

“The resources that come of the public land, about $450 million a year, the expense that is being put into the resources in Utah is $219 million a year, so with the additional $225 million  we would certainly have the money to do it,” Herbert said.

Bennett said there is a dispute among experts as to whether Utah could cover the management costs. Even if Utah could take over the land, she said it does not necessarily lead to an increase in revenue, so taking over the lands would not help schools.

“You’re investing a lot of state money that could be invested now in education or other initiatives to support kids and to make their lives better, you’re throwing that money in the direction of lawyers,” Bennett said.

Governor Herbert said during his testimony that he is also in favor of Utah Representative Rob Bishop’s “Grand Bargain.” The plan would attempt to reach a consensus with varying environmental, industry, and land management groups as a way to move forward on Utah lands.

Bennett said she personally isn’t against the idea of smaller land transfers.

“You know I think there are many individuals, many educators, myself included, who would support land trades and perhaps transfers among the different entities for specific reasons. But the wholesale land transfer gets us nowhere, except puts us at an impasse,” Bennett said.