Letter to the Editor: Upcoming forum could facilitate finding common ground on public lands issues

Photo by Wolfgang Moroder via Wikipedia Commons, St. George News

OPINION — The use and management of Public Lands has become an important and divisive issue in Southern Utah, across the state and nationally.

There have been very few forums for civil discourse on this subject in which the public can share their understanding and have their voices heard. There is little opportunity to derive a factual basis for our elected officials’ positions and policies. You can help change that.

Please attend a forum for “Finding Common Ground on Public Lands” to identify shared values, issues and paths to resolve them, on the morning of Sept. 21 at Dixie State University, hosted by Conserve Southwest Utah  and DSU Sustainability Club. To find out more and to register, follow this link or search “Eventbrite Finding Common Ground on Public Lands” in your web browser. Our state and local representatives have been invited.

Public Lands, by definition, are lands owned by the public; that is, owned by citizens collectively, not privately owned by individuals or corporations. Generally, when the term Public Lands is used, it is meant to mean lands owned by all U.S. citizens, managed by federal agencies with alphabet-soup names like BLM, USFS, BoR, USFWLS and NPS, as directed by the U.S. Congress at the behest of the citizens they represent.

When the Western states were created, Congress decided to not give away all the land to private owners for a variety of lessons learned in the existing states. Roughly half of the lands in many of these sparsely populated large Western states, including Utah, were retained for the benefit of all current and future Americans.

The issues related to these lands are centered on how the lands should be used, and who gets to decide. There are two extremes: (1) keep the lands federally-managed and protect them all, and (2) give the lands to state or local governments for privatization and short-term economic development. There are several key issues:

  • Who are the rightful owners of these lands; should ownership be changed and if so, how?
  • How should the lands be used; how do the owners think they should be used?
  • Who is best equipped and funded to manage these lands?
  • Is Utah economically disadvantaged by these lands?
  • What is best for Utah’s local communities?

The Finding Common Ground forum with explore these issues and more.

A primary job of our elected representatives is to develop positions on issues and implement policies that support them. How do they do this? We propose that they engage their constituents in defining the issues, developing positions with a basis in facts and values and developing policies to implement those positions.

When this does not happen, the results are flawed and (include) contentious positions and policies, influenced by hidden interests, not supported by facts, and harmful to the public. This in turn results in angry, confused, divided, disengaged and apathetic constituents. The goal of this forum is to begin changing that direction on Public Lands in our backyard.

Written by TOM BUTINE, board president of Conserve Southwest Utah, a grassroots nonprofit organization advocating conservation of the region’s natural resources.

Letters to the Editor are not the product or opinion of St. George News and are given only light edit for technical style and formatting. The matters stated and opinions given are the responsibility of the person submitting them.

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