Utah studies economics of state control of public lands

The federal government controls slightly more than 63 percent of the land in Utah. A taxpayer-funded study is underway on the economics of the state managing that land instead. Photo courtesy Utah Public Lands Policy Coordination Office.

SALT LAKE CITY – The taxpayers of Utah are paying several hundred thousand dollars for a study to examine the economics of the state taking control of public lands owned by the federal government.

The half-million dollar study is under the jurisdiction of Utah’s Public Lands Policy Coordination Office and linked to a 2012 state law that demands the federal government turn over control of public lands to the state.

David Garbett, an attorney with the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, said some state lawmakers want that control in order to go after oil and timber.

“They want to increase the amount of oil and gas development on sensitive lands,” Garbett said. “They want to cut down our forests that are important for our watersheds and for wildlife habitat. That’s what this is really about. It’s about how these lands are managed, and they want to see, and they want to trump, extractive uses over uses that might be more beneficial to the public as a whole.”

Garbett said he believes the study is a waste of taxpayer money and thinks it isn’t legally possible that the state of Utah ever would gain control of the federal land within its borders. Nonetheless, the Legislature passed <a href=”http://le.utah.gov/%7E2012/htmdoc/hbillhtm/hb0148.htm” target=”parent”>HB 148</a>, the “Transfer of Public Lands Act,” two years ago, asking the federal government to transfer title of public lands to the state before Jan. 1, 2015.

Kathleen Clarke, director of Utah’s Public Lands Policy Coordination Office, said controlling the public lands would give the state access to billions of dollars in untapped natural resources.

“We’ve heard of the studies that project literally billions of dollars of potential – oil, gas, mineral development – within the state, that currently is off-limits under the federal management scenarios and protocols,” she said.

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