Utah Republicans Support Fight Against Feds Over Public Lands

Ken Ivory, go crazy.

Yes, it’s a green light for Utah lawmakers who are pressing hard against the federal government, attempting to get control of millions of acres of federal BLM and forest lands, a new UtahPolicy poll conducted by Dan Jones & Associates shows.

And for GOP state House and Senate members, led by the irascible Ivory, R-West Jordan, this is very good news.

Not only do most Utahns want the state to take over the lands, they also approve of the state suing the federal government to get those lands.

And when you break out respondents by political party, well, Republicans in the Legislature and GOP Gov. Gary Herbert have nothing to worry about.

Rank-and-file members of the state’s majority political party are ready to go, ready to fight tonight.

The numbers are actually overwhelming:

  • 78 percent of Republicans want the Utah State Government to take over control of Bureau of Land Management lands in the state. Only 12 percent say no, keep the lands under federal control.
  • Two-thirds of Republicans say the state should take over national forest service lands – which are mostly in the mountainous areas.
  • Only 15 percent of Republicans want the feds to keep control of national forests in Utah.

As you may imagine, Democrats are on the opposite side of the federal/state line. Seventy-five percent of Democrats don’t want the state to take control of BLM lands; 79 percent don’t want the state to take over national forests.

  • 69 percent of Utah Republicans believe state government is best equipped to control the now-federal lands, while only 6 percent say the federal government is best.
  • And 73 percent of Republicans want the state – with the Legislature now taking the lead – to file suit in federal court in an effort to get the courts to force the federal government to give the lands back to the state.

Several years ago the GOP-controlled Legislature passed a law saying if the feds don’t return lands to state control by Dec. 31 of this year, the state is authorized to file such a suit.

Lawmakers have put aside $2 million to pay for expert witnesses and outside legal counsel, should the state file such a suit.

Even with that deadline – and clearly Congress will not act to give the lands back by the end of this year – a new legislative committee (Ivory is the House chair) is holding off for now.

The commission on public lands stewardship, made up of House and Senate members, is studying the lands issue and collecting testimony on how best to acquire the lands, how to pay to maintain the lands, and how to dispose of lands, if need be.

Recently, Attorney General Sean Reyes advised the commission that while it may take a lawsuit, for now it is best to negotiate with federal officials.

Meanwhile, U.S. Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, has a bill that is moving through the U.S. House that would trade out/block together some state and federal lands, designate some wilderness areas and open up some federal lands for energy development.

Herbert recently told the media that he believes Congress – with the threat of a lawsuit in the background – may well pass the Bishop bill, and Utah lawmakers, before suing, should wait at least a year to see if that bill becomes law, and Utah get control of a significant amount of federal land.

Jones found that 60 percent of Utahns support the Bishop bill route, only 26 percent oppose.

Of course, Republicans like the Bishop bill much more – 74 percent support it.

But even a third of Democrats like the Bishop bill, Jones found; while 47 percent oppose it.

This is probably the first time in Bishop’s tenure in the U.S. House that a third of Utah Democrats like what he’s doing.

In any case, the poll overall shows that Ivory et al. have a mandate from the people to move ahead in some form, spend money, file lawsuits, all in an attempt to get now-federal lands returned to state control.