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Utah News

Public Lands Commission Reviving Familiar Debate

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The Commission has reignited the debate surrounding control of federal lands.

The Commission for the Stewardship of Public Lands immediately received criticism when it released a study a week ago detailing Utah’s legal basis for gaining control of local federal lands. Critics of the Commission’s recommendations made their doubts heard concerning the $14 million price tag if the state pursued the issue in federal court.

For supporters of state control of these lands, the lawsuit is worth the legal costs. State Rep. Ken Ivory, who worked on the Commission and is a part of the American Lands Council, said that the issue has as much to do with federalism as it does about the lands themselves.

“You look at the map of the states west of the Rockies excluding Hawai’i. More than 50 percent of that land is controlled by the federal government; less than five percent of the land east of the Rockies is controlled by the federal government,” Ivory said. “Our Union can’t operate on that basis. That’s why the Supreme Court said two years ago the constitutional equality of the states is essential for our federated Union to even function.”

Ivory says that distant federal control is having negative environmental impacts as well.

“This inequality, this unfairness in statehood, is a matter of extreme environmental concern,” he said. “Our lands are being managed by bureaucrats thousands of miles away with a policy manual and they treat our unique lands as if a one-size-fits-all policy deal with our lands; this distant museum management, if you will. They lock up our lands like they’re in a museum. It’s simply not working.”

Utah is second only to Nevada in the amount of land within a state that is federally controlled.