Most Utahns Want to Continue Fight for Control of Public Lands

Utah State CapitolRepublicans now control the White House and both houses of Congress, and most Utahns want the state to push them to give control of most of the federal lands in Utah to state officials, a new UtahPolicy poll finds.

Utah will always be a public lands state, says GOP Gov. Gary Herbert and the Republican-controlled Legislature.

The question is should use of those lands be determined by federal land agencies – like the Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Forest Service – or by state officials.

UPD’s pollster Dan Jones & Associates finds in his latest survey that 55 percent of Utahns want state officials to continue their battle to gain control of BLM and forest service lands.

Thirty-five percent of Utahns don’t want the state to go after those federal lands.

And 10 percent don’t know.


State GOP lawmakers and Herbert have allocated millions of dollars to fight for control of those federal lands. And the possibility remains that Utah could file suit against the federal government before the U.S. Supreme Court.

But now Republican Donald Trump sits in the White House. And Republicans control the U.S. House and Senate.

Why sue if Trump and Congress will just give the lands to the state?

The lands were promised to Western land states when they joined the Union so many years ago, but few of which parcels have actually be turned over to state control.

A detailed study by Utah officials several years ago found that Utah could, in fact, afford to take control and management of vast acreages of BLM and forest lands. But only if the price of oil – the most valuable commodity on those lands – is above $60 a barrel.

Of course, the price of oil is down around $40 a barrel, and who knows when, or if, it will ever be up around $60 again.

The federal government can deficit spend – in effect, print money. Utah state officials can’t, and under the state Constitution must balance its budget every fiscal year.

Thus, there is the real possibility that Utah state officials could get control of these federal lands, but not be able to pay for management of them — like fighting forest fires.

But, for now, that’s not a concern by most Utahns, especially conservatives and Republicans, finds Jones.

  • Among those who said they are Republicans, 73 percent (nearly three fourths) say they want state officials to continue going after federal lands.
  • Only 17 percent of Republicans don’t want that; and 10 percent don’t know.

Democrats are just the opposite: 75 percent say the state should not go after the federal lands, 14 percent want to, and 12 percent don’t know.

Political independents are split, 47 percent don’t want Utah to get the federal lands, 41 percent do, and 10 percent don’t know.

Your particular political leanings are determinant:

  • Those who say they are “very conservative” want state officials to go after the lands, 83-13 percent.
  • Those who defined themselves as “moderates” are split, 41 percent want the lands, 47 percent don’t.
  • Those who said they are “very liberal” want nothing to do with the federal lands, 78-12 percent.

Utah is a majority Mormon state. And the LDS religion teaches that humans should be good stewards of the land.

Jones finds that Mormons want to the state government to control that stewardship; 68 percent want the land controlled here, 23 percent don’t want the federal lands, and 10 percent of Mormons don’t know.

Jones polled 614 adults from Dec. 8-12. The survey has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.95 percent.