House resolves manage, not own, public lands; Trump considered

Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante in Utah are among four national monuments that Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke is recommending be downsized, San Juan, Utah | Photo courtesy of Bureau of Land Management, St. George News / Cedar City News

CEDAR CITY – Utah’s House of Representatives sent the Senate a resolution it passed seeking to give the state greater control over the public land and its resources but scaling back the Legislature’s long-standing threat to sue the federal government for ownership of those public lands and resources. The resolution in its current form aims to give Utah’s congressional delegation and state leadership a chance to work with the Trump administration.

With their war chest already topping $5 million, Republican lawmakers have been threatening for years to try and force the federal government to transfer 31 million acres of Utah’s public lands to state ownership.

But that litigation would be put on hold under Rep. Keven Stratton’s nonbinding Concurrent Resolution to Secure the Perpetual Health and Vitality of Utah’s Public Lands and its Status as a Premier Public Lands State, designated HCR 1-Second Substitute during this year’s general session.

If the concurrent resolution is passed, a petition to the U.S. Supreme Court for transfer of public lands would be available to the state as a last resort only.

“This is a call to all hands on deck,” Stratton said to the House Natural Resources, Agriculture, and Environment Committee.

The resolution was sent to the Senate Feb. 28 after the House passed it 53-14. Southern Utah representatives all voted in favor of the resolution except for Rep. Merrill Nelson, R-Grantsville, who was not present during the vote.

Sen. David Hinkins, R-Orangeville, is carrying the resolution in the Senate where it has already received a favorable recommendation by the Senate Natural Resources, Agriculture and Environment Committee and has been calendared for second reading. The measure must go through three readings on the Senate floor before it can be officially passed.

The resolution was initially called “Concurrent Resolution on Public Lands Litigation” and encouraged the state to pursue legal action. The measure underwent some changes however while in the House Natural Resources, Agriculture and Environment Committee, and was retitled “Concurrent Resolution to Secure the Perpetual Health and Vitality of Utah’s Public Lands and its Status as a Premier Public Lands State.”

The second substitute of the proposed resolution is a much more toned-down version. Instead of backing a lawsuit, the substitute now “urges our federal executive agencies to do all that they can to promote the transfer of control over Utah’s public lands to state management.”

It also urges “our federal delegation and Congress to take necessary legislative steps to ensure the transfer of control of Utah’s public lands to state management.”

In its revised form, the resolution stresses “Utah’s leaders are committed to the protection and improvement of public lands.”

And it maintains that “federal mismanagement has provided Utah communities with increased air pollution, dying forests, decimated wildlife, depressed economies, underfunded public education and blocked recreational opportunities.”

“The state of Utah seeks management and control over the public lands not to sell them off to the highest bidder,” the proposed resolution states, “but to protect them in the way they always should have been protected.”

Stratton told the House Natural Resources, Agriculture, and Environment Committee, “The intent of this is to say, ‘Look, we treasure our public lands. We have always treasured our public lands. It is the protection of our public lands that we are seeking.”

Utah’s Congressman Chris Stewart does not believe the Trump administration is going to transfer the public lands to the state. But he remains hopeful that President Trump will allow Utah to have more control in managing the public lands.

“His sons are avid hunters and I just don’t think that he is going to be willing to transfer those public lands to the state,” Stewart said. “But I do think he will be open to working with us and allowing Utah to have more control over the management of the public lands and that’s really what we want.”

Stewart added that he feels the federal government has failed in its care of public lands and pointed to dying forests and starving horses as just two examples of that failure.

In a recent interview with St. George News / Cedar City News, Stewart said he is anxious to work with Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke and plans to now move forward with legislation regarding Utah’s public lands that he was unable to get through under former President Obama and with former Nevada Sen. Harry Reid then still in power.

Some of the first legislation Stewart said he plans on pushing regards wild horses that he argues are in bad condition because of overpopulation on the range.

“We have to do something,” Stewart said. “These horses are starving because the federal government will not take care of them properly and will not allow the state to take care of them.”

Stewart said he also plans on working with Zinke and Trump on reducing the size of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument so that the state can have the coal reserves inside. He also is going to be talking with the two men about rescinding Bears Ears National Monument or at least scaling back the acreage. The Utah Legislature recently passed two resolutions urging Congress and the president to consider both of these issues.

Ed. notes and resources

From Southern Utah, Rep. Mike Noel sits on the House Natural Resources, Agriculture, and Environment Committee and was absent from the first two committee votes on the resolution but present for subsequent committee votes passing the second substitute and its subsequent favorable recommendation to the House. All of Southern Utah’s representatives except Rep. Merrill Nelson voted in favor of the second substitute resolution, which passed 53-14 with 8 absent or not voting, Nelson among them.

From Southern Utah, Sens. Evan Vickers and David Hinkins sit on the Senate Natural Resources, Agriculture, and Environment Committee where the second substitute resolution received the committee’s favorable recommendation to the Senate, 4-0 with 3 absent. Vickers voted for the recommendation in committee, Hinkins was absent; Hinkins is, though, the resolution’s Senate sponsor. The resolution is now on the Senate’s second-reading calendar.

Read more: See all St. George News reports on Utah Legislature 2017 issues

Email: tsullivan@stgnews.com

Twitter: @tracie_sullivan

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2017, all rights reserved.

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1 Comment

  • comments March 5, 2017 at 11:03 am

    So “you don’t have to let us own it so long as you let us put all the mines and drilling operations that we want on it.”

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