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Legislators Work To Give Public Lands To States
United States Department of Agriculture Forest Service

Rep. Chris Stewart and Rob Bishop launched the Federal Land Action Group on Tuesday with the hope that they can develop a legislative framework for transferring public lands to local ownership and control.

Stewart called the government a “lousy landlord” in a statement, adding that forests, energy development and access to public lands would improve under the stewardship of the states. In an interview Wednesday, Stewart talked about a time when he was flying over Utah and noticed something about the forests.

“You could see a clear difference between those forests that are managed by the federal government and those that are managed by the states,” Stewart said. “But I just think in general, states have proven they can do a terrific job managing these lands, and the federal government is much more bureaucratic. It’s much slower to respond, and it just doesn’t do as good of a job.”

However, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance Legal Director Steve Bloch says there is no basis for the argument that the federal government has neglected public lands. He also thinks there could be third-party interest in the newly-launched Federal Lands Action Group.

“The fingerprints come from Rep. Ivory’s American Lands Council, which is funded either directly or indirectly it seems like from the Koch brothers,” Bloch said. “I mean, it sounds a bit conspiratorial, but I think it seems like it’s a coordinated effort to try and wrest away public control.”

The Wilderness alliance expressed the concern on their website that the Federal Land Action Group may turn public lands into auction material. Stewart, however, refuted this, saying he couldn’t disagree more.

While they are still deciding what approach to take in giving states control of federal lands, Stewart said the first step they will take is educating the public.

“This working group is really just the starting point,” Stewart said. “It’s something we understand is going to take a real sustained effort. And it’s not something were going to do between now and the weekend, by any means. But it’s a place to start, and that’s what we’re hoping to do.”

The Federal Land Action Group intends to hold a series of forums with experts on public lands policy.