A narrow majority of Utahns want the state government to take over federal lands within our borders, a new UtahPolicy poll by Dan Jones & Associates shows.
Fifty-five percent told Jones they “strongly” or “somewhat” support the idea of the state taking over the vast swaths of federally owned and managed lands.
Thirty-nine percent don’t want the state taking over the federal lands, and 6 percent didn’t know.
A massive, multi-year study on the state taking over the bulk of federal lands in Utah found the large undertaking could be worthwhile if the price of oil were over $40 a barrel and the price of natural gas stabilized.
Utah could only break even – or make money – if state land managers leased out some of their newly-acquired lands for various uses.
However, the price of oil is now around $30 a barrel, and Utah’s natural gas production is not bringing in the money it did several years ago – as the United States (even the world to some extent) is awash in these carbon-based fuels.
Undeterred, a special legislative committee recently approved spending $14 million on a lawsuit aimed at getting the United States Supreme Court to rule for Utah and force federal officials to give much of its land here to the state – as promised when Utah became a state in 1896.
Just last week Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, finally unveiled his congressional bill that would swap around federal and state lands in seven eastern Utah counties.
Modeled loosely after a bill that traded lands in southwestern Utah passed several years ago by former U.S. Bob Bennett, R-Utah, and Rep. Jim Matheson, D-Utah, Bishop’s bill is a piecemeal approach to what Utah GOP legislators and Republican Gov. Gary Herbert want to do.
Except that the Utah Republicans want to take over all of the BLM and U.S. Forest Service lands in the state, not swap them around for other uses.
If state GOP officials are only playing to their Republican base, they are safe in moving forward with the huge federal land take-over. Jones finds:
68 percent of Utah Republicans favor taking over federal lands, 28 percent oppose it, and 5 percent don’t know.
Political independents are split, 51 percent says to take the lands, 43 percent say don’t, and 6 percent don’t know.
Utah Democrats oppose taking over federal lands, 25-70 percent.
The legislative Democrats don’t trust Utah GOP state officials to manage the current federal lands.
GOP lawmakers say Utah will always be a public lands state – the question is whether those lands are owned and administered by elected state officials or the feds.
The Republican officials say some current federal lands now not leased or timbered could become so under state rule, but that few lands would be sold.
Profits from new state lands could greatly help fund public and higher education in Utah, the GOP state officials say.
Usually, Utah men and women are pretty close in their opinions as measured by Jones.
But the state taking over federal lands is different. Jones finds that 61 percent of men want to take the federal lands while only 49 percent of women do.
Utah is, of course, a very Mormon state. And the LDS religion teaches that the Lord provided the fruits of the Earth for man’s sustenance and enjoyment, with humans charged to be good stewards of the land and animals.
Accordingly, 66 percent of “very active” Mormons believe Utah state government should control the federal lands while only 29 percent oppose the move.
Jones polled 845 adults between Jan. 6-13 through live telephone calls (both landlines and cell phones) and online; the poll having a margin of error of plus or minus 3.37 percent.