Opinion: Writer Chides Utah for Land Grab
The following point of view piece appeared in The Spectrum, St. George, Utah, and was written by Ty Markham, a 2012 candidate for Utah House District 73. She is a licensed psychologist, former teacher, current business owner and town council member.
The deep connection I feel to our public lands go well beyond appreciating their role as anchor for my business: The red-rock deserts, canyons, towering cliffs and aspen-layered mountains are my soul’s way to transcend the weariness of daily life.
So I’m not surprised that Colorado College’s “State of the Rockies” project shows vast majorities support protection of our public lands — 96% of Utahns agree they are an essential part of the state’s economy, and given the most up-to-date information on proposals to sell off public lands, 67% of Utahns are opposed.
I wonder, then, why our elected officials, including Gov. Gary Herbert, advocate the transfer to state ownership — up to 30 million acres — of federally owned land in Utah. We’ve all heard the proponents’ rhetoric: “Utah can do a better job of managing those lands”; “We should be able to decide how best to manage those lands”; “It will benefit our kids by funding public education.”
But there are serious doubts.
- First, federal agencies such as Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Forest Service and National Park Service spend in excess of $650 million every year for land management. That includes salaries, contractors and infrastructure — money spent in Utah that grows our economy.
- Second, Utah’s Legislature struggles to find money just to manage state parks. How would Utah find the resources to properly manage another 30 million acres? We’d have to lease or sell to the highest bidder. Actually, proponents are OK with leasing or selling the lands because their real agenda is to make those lands available for mineral extraction or sale to private interests. Think big real estate developers. Think land-locked. Think polluted air, watersheds and aquifers. Think dwindling tourism. That’s when businesses start having to lay off employees. That’s when Utah starts losing its home-grown tax revenue stream.
- Worse, Utah couldn’t benefit from any sell-off of the public lands. When title is transferred to a state, federal law requires 95 percent of sales proceeds be returned to federal coffers. Utah taxpayers would bear all the costs, while the feds would retain the profits. And sadly, as always, Utah schools get the short end of the stick.
Who is promoting this idea? Rep. Ken Ivory. The senate sponsor is Wayne Niederhauser. Then there’s its chief propagator, Gov. Herbert. The largest portion of his war chest has come from real estate and energy interests. So this is the real “land grab.”
My brothers run several hundred head of cattle on their Texas ranches and complain there’s no federal land for grazing. They must travel to Utah to fish or hunt, or pay hundreds or thousands to do so on private land in Texas. How would we feel if our favorite spots in Southern Utah were closed off with a sign that says, “Private Property. No Trespassing. ABC Oil Exploration”?