Federal to State Transfer of Public Lands

Transfer of Public Lands

ISSUE

 

Western states should take the necessary action to require the federal government to transfer select federal lands to state control. Lands transferred to state control should be administered under multiple-use management. Over the years, Utah’s executive and legislative efforts have not been successful in getting the federal government to transfer title to federal lands. 

BACKGROUND

Utah is one of the most beautiful and diverse states in the country, particularly when it comes to outdoor recreation landscapes. A recent Gallup survey concluded that our close access to outdoor recreation contributes to a quality of life and this quality of life is particularly attractive to companies and their employees looking to relocate. As our population increases, so does the need for more open space and outdoor recreation facilities. 

Utah is the 13th largest state in the nation and spans several topographies and eco-regions, allowing great variety in outdoor recreation activities. Utah is 84,899 square miles, or 54.3 million acres. Of that, approximately 69 percent is under federal management. Nearly 80 percent of the state consists of land administered for public use by federal, state and local resource management agencies. 

Land Ownership in Utah

Ownership                                                                            Land (acres)

Bureau of Land Management                                                22,805,006

National Park Service                                                            1,950,971

U.S. Forest Service                                                                8,120,570

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service                                                64,395

Other Federal Lands (including military)                                1,814,214

Division of Utah State Parks and Recreation                         102,311

State Wildlife Reserves and Management Areas                   468,962

Other State Lands                                                                  4,096,704

Indian Reservations                                                                2,442,833

Private Lands                                                                          11,461,586

Total Lands in Utah                                                                  53,327,552

Total Surface Water                                                                  947,422

Total All Lands and Surface Water                                           54,314,974

Utah has 5 national parks, 7 national monuments, 2 national recreation areas, one national historic site, 43 state parks and 14 ski resorts to help attract both in-state and out-of-state visitors.  In 2011, Utah tourism spending exceeded $6.8 billion, employed over 124,000 and contributed $60 million in state and local sales tax revenue. There were 11 million visits to Utah’s national parks in 2011 and 5.4 million visits to Utah’s state parks in 2016.  

 

RECENT LEGISLATIVE HISTORY

2012               Utah Legislature enacts the Transfer of Public Lands Act and directs Utah’s Public Lands Policy Coordinating Office (PLPCO) to conduct a study and economic analysis of the transfer of federal lands to state ownership.

2014               Utah Legislature creates the Commission for the Stewardship of Public Lands (Commission) and enacts the Utah Wilderness Act. PLPCO presents its final report, which concludes that Utah could take ownership of lands and cover management costs.

2015               Commission hires outside legal counsel and public relations firms. Outside legal counsel presents its legal analysis that summarizes Utah’s legal case against the federal government and steps to facilitate the transfer of federal lands to the state.

2016               Utah Legislature enacts the Utah Public Lands Management Act.  Ironically, the same year, President Obama designates Bears Ears as a National Monument.

2017               Utah Legislature urges the President to rescind the Bears Ears National Monument and requests a modification to the boundaries of the Grand Staircase- Escalante National Monument.  Utah Legislature asserts Utah commitment to remaining a public lands state. President Trump modifies the boundaries of both the Bears Ears and the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.  

2018               Utah Legislature adopts the Statewide Resource Management Plan which PLPCO largely created and presented.

 

KEY NOTES

1.         Since 2012 (eight Legislative Sessions), the Utah Legislature has sponsored 46 bills and an additional 28 resolutions, including 16 total this recently completed 2019 Session, to help facilitate the transfer of public lands from federal to state government. 

2.         Through Resolution in 2012, the Utah Legislature demanded the federal government transfer title of public lands within Utah’s borders directly to the State of Utah by December 31, 2014. In return, Utah declared it would affirmatively cede the national park lands to the federal government. As part of this demand, Utah committed to retaining 5% of the net proceeds and pay the remaining 95% to the federal government. 

3.         Utah Legislature enacted a process for a county to recommend to the Legislature proposed congressional land use legislation concerning federal land use within the county.

4.         Utah Legislature affirmed that public land shall be managed to promote multiple use when lands are transferred.

 

UTAH AGRICULTURE

Utah’s food and agriculture sector contributes to Utah’s economic health by generating billions of dollars in economic activity and providing jobs to tens of thousands of Utah citizens. Utah farm gate sales in 2015 exceeded $2.3 billion and according to Utah State University, the economic ripple effect generates $17.5 billion per year, or about 14% of Utah’s GDP and providing nearly 80,000 jobs. Livestock production drives Utah’s agriculture economy, contributing about 40% of the state’s agricultural total. 

Economically, viable and sustainable ranching operations in the western public lands states are dependent on policies that allow access as well as reasonable regulations. Utah ranchers are challenged by changing management philosophies dictated by election cycles and politically appointed bureaucrats. The historic cultural and economic contributions of livestock ranching in Utah is unquestioned. Livestock ranches are the economic mainstay of our rural communities. The mix of private lands, private water rights and access to the public domain has created new wealth for generations through the harvest of annually renewing forage. These multi-generation Utah businesses are confronted by ever-changing management philosophies, mounting rules and regulations, endless legal battles with radical environmental groups funded through the Equal Access to Justice Act (EAJA) and the American taxpayer.  

 

STATE OF UTAH ACTION PLAN

Through these years of legislation and legal analysis, the Legislature has formally adopted “Foundational Cornerstones” which include: Constitutional Principles, actions by the President of the United States, the Utah Legislature and state analysis. A “Plan of Action” has been formally adopted which calls for a coordinated, simultaneous effort between the three branches of government at the state and federal levels. A State of Utah Public Vision Statement has been adopted which states, “Transfer control of 31.2 million acres of public land currently managed by the federal government to the State of Utah.” 

 

RESULTS:

In recent years, as the Utah House of Representatives membership changes, many of the vocal supporters have decreased or have not sought re-election. Even with legislative membership turnover, there appears to be strong legislative support but perhaps waning vocal legislative support.  



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