Utah’s participation in the proper management of its lands and resources is very limited today, because nearly two-thirds of our state’s land is controlled by the federal government, which has imposed its agenda on western states and dictates local land management. Slowly but surely, the national government has lost its ability to effectively manage the West in a way that assures access and balanced management; let alone the sustainability of western communities. Simply put, as our national government becomes more cumbersome and increasingly gridlocked in bureaucracy, it can no longer properly care for the vast spaces, resources, and unique ecosystems in the West.
Utah has a strong conservation ethic and heritage, and cares deeply about its mountain, forest, and desert landscapes. Utahns intuitively know the value of these natural lands and resources. That’s why virtually all Utahns agree that our State’s world-class recreational and scenic attractions, and rich energy, mineral and other natural resources require cooperative, proactive management, for the benefit of all interests. That’s also why the majority of its citizens recognize that Utah should be the rightful administrator and the political entity best suited to manage its public lands. A balanced approach to public lands management in Utah, which protects our beautiful lands and encourages vibrant outdoor recreation and responsible energy development, is the best approach for all interests.
Federal control and management of public lands probably worked reasonably well, back when Western areas of our young nation lacked leadership and a sense of community. More recently in Utah and other Western States, however, growing numbers of residents have come to understand that they can do better by working together in their own communities, economies and ecosystems, than as part of a centralized, national government structure. Re-thinking public land management in Utah will allow the state to maintain vibrant, healthy landscapes, and find the best management practices to enhance or restore areas that have suffered under a process-heavy federal bureaucracy.
We believe the effort launched earlier this year in Utah represents a balanced approach. Our approach is based on the conviction that development and environmental stewardship are synergistic and not mutually exclusive. Governor Herbert signed HB148, the Public Lands Transfer Act, in an earnest and timely effort to generate cooperative, constructive dialogue with the federal government about gaining more say in how Utah’s public lands are managed.
Utah’s public lands effort is based on a commitment to facilitating a balanced, federal-state win-win situation. Despite the media myths to the contrary, there is no multi-million-dollar lawsuit to take over all federal lands in Utah. Rather, Utah is investing the time, resources and effort required by the scope of such a Legislative decision surrounding State control of public lands within its borders. These lands were originally intended, but never transferred to Utah or any other western state, by founding and subsequent leaders in our federal government.
The emerging efforts by western states for greater self-determination and responsibility for the lands within their borders represent an important paradigm shift in public land management. As westerners continue to move away from a top-down, Washington-led land management regime, it is important that the new models of public land management are based on a local, collaborative-based approach. I believe Utah is leading the way with a balanced approach that recognizes some key lands should remain under federal control while giving the state authority over lands more suitably managed at the local level.