Noel’s Bill Establishes Framework for Managing Public Lands in Utah

Utah State Capitol DomeIt would make sense that if Utah state government is to take control of millions of acres of federal lands, then the state would need an agency to manage it.

And now a leading advocate of the take-over, Rep. Mike Noel, R-Kanab, has introduced a massive new law, HB276, that would establish the Division of Land Management within the current Utah Department of Natural Resources.

Noel said much of his bill reflects the current federal land management law, FLPMA.

“I really believe this gives the same protections” to recreationists, conservationists, wilderness advocates as does current federal law, said Noel.

“We want to start a dialogue; we want input,” said Noel.

As yet there is no fiscal note, so the cost of setting up, hiring personnel, supplying office space, vehicles and all the rest is not known. The note will come later, and is required before the bill is debated and voted on.

However, Noel said because the bill is currently just a policy statement, and another act will be needed when any federal lands actually come to the state; he expects the fiscal note will be zero.

The bill is 871 lines long.

Besides setting up the bureaucracy, the bill would also set up four new funds — Public Land Protection Fund, Public Land Management Fund, Timber Fund, and Grazing Land Fund — into which various fees, leases and such would pay into, and out of which would flow appropriations to pay the costs of managing the lands.

Several years ago, the Legislature authorized an extensive study looking at, among other things, the cost of Utah taking over the millions of acres now controlled by the federal Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service.

That study found Utah state government could raise enough money through leases et al. of the federal lands to basically pay for itself if the price of crude oil (the main cash crop) were $40 a barrel or more.

Utah could make, literally, billions of dollars if oil went upwards of $100 a barrel and other resources on the federal lands were developed, like timber.

But oil is now running around $30 a barrel.

Opponents of Utah taking over control of the federal land fear state officials, including legislators, will develop the land to the detriment of some users – like recreationists, hikers or others who just want the land as wilderness or otherwise not developed.

Several sections of HB276 deal with “multiple uses,” starting on line 101 and running at some length.

Noel said the same language is employed in FLPMA, “with some modifications.”

Should Utah get the 20 million acres of federal land, very little may be sold over time, he added.

“We are talking about retention, retention, retention,” said Noel.

Yes, in “rare and isolated instances” there may be federal lands that could not be economically managed by the state, and those lands may be sold at some point.

“But we would have wilderness. We would have hiking” and other less-intrusive use of the lands, as well as developing some lands’ resources, oil, timber, grazing, mining and so on.

Last year Noel introduced what he called “a much longer bill” that went into some detail about land management. But he held that after opposition and confusion.

He hopes HB276 goes through the legislative process, even passes into law.

“We would amend the law as we move forward” with the actual taking control of the federal land, he added.

“This new bill is not the total recipe. We have a long way to go.”

A special legislative commission recently approved an already appropriated $14 million to begin the process of suing the federal government, attempting to get federal lands promised to Utah at statehood in 1896.