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Scholars Say Public Lands Transfer Would Hurt Access, Environment

Utah's push to wrest control of 31 million acres of federally controlled land would lead to less public access, less public involvement in land-use decisions and more drilling and strip mining, according to a report by a group of legal scholars.

The report, by the Univeristy of Utah Law School's Wallace Stegner Center for Land, Resources and the Environment, also concludes the move could lead to less chance of imperiled plants and wildlife winning protection under the endangered species act.

But Assistant Attorney General Tony Rampton counters that the status quo represents perhaps the greatest threat to public lands.

"The public land policy in this country right now, and this pertains primarily with the western United States, isn't working very well. In fact, in some respects, it's working very poorly. And changes need to be made. Now whether those changes are accomplished through a wholesale transfer of the public lands or something else, something's got to change," Rampton said. 

The report was co-authored by Bob Keiter, the Stegner Center's director and John Ruple, who served in the Utah Public Lands Policy Coordinating Office under former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman.