Think the state would be better? Think again
Recent bills passed in the Utah State Legislature are aimed at taking the federal lands in Utah and putting them in state hands instead of in the charge of agencies like the Bureau of Land Management, the United States Forest Service, the National Park Service and others.
The legislature even put some monetary notes behind these bills to defend them. Last I heard they had appropriated about $3 million to do that.
First it will cost a lot more than a few million bucks to pry the federal land in Utah out of the grasp of Uncle Sam. Second, based on what I have read, it seems the action probably would be shut down by every court in America.
But more importantly than either of those, is the question is that of what Utahns would really want? Initially many are very much behind this if it could happen. But if it did, what would be the plan. How would Utah manage those lands?
Actually there are two "hows" in that question.
One how is an adverb, which questions in what way or manner the state would the manage those lands should they get them.
The other is the meaning of how as noun, the meaning of which concerns the way or manner in which something is done, or achieved.
We have all at one time or another bitten off the proverbial something that is too big for us to chew. It'd be like me being handed the CEO's job at Ford and thinking I could do it. I can barely run this newspaper sometimes. I neither have the skills to run a large company like that nor the temperament to do so.
Would the state have either of those if they were granted the land the feds now see as their own?
Let's look at those "hows."
In the first case, the adverb, What kind of an organization would the state have to manage the land? What kind of budget would it need to do so. Would it be the Utah Bureau of Land Management? And what would be their charge? Access for all or for a few?
Right now the state is having a hard time even running its state parks and keeping them open. What would happen if they suddenly had to manage all these lands (even if they gave back the National Parks to the feds)? When dealing with state agencies I often find many of them just as difficult to deal with as federal agencies. If you think the state would be "nicer" to deal with than the feds, more understanding and allow local governments (and individuals) more control, if you think they would be more open, think again.
Look how many of the main leaders in our legislature act each year. Openness certainly is not one of their virtues. And control? Do you think they would let the counties and the cites have control of state land around their localities to determine what should be done? Case in point is the anti-idling ordinance Salt Lake City put in last year, after years of study. Whether you agree with such a law or not, the fact is that the capital city's city council passed that ordinance and now some of the state legislators don't like it and are trying to overturn it. The thinking that the legislature as a whole would be any more sensitive to rural needs than the federal government is has been proven wrong time and time again.
The second how is the noun version. In what way would they manage the lands; not the means of managing it, but the ultimate process of what would happen to them. There has been a lot of talk among some legislators that if they got ahold of the lands they would sell at least some of them off so they could get more money for education.
Oh yes; it's that word so many of us have heard and even some of us like so much. Privatizaton.
Where would that kind of action end? And who would determine what would be sold? Would the state lands, that in this case would make up so much of a place like Clark Valley, be any more or less valuable than the middle of the San Rafael Swell. Who would determine what would be disposable?
And who would these state lands be sold to? We all know special interest groups have ahold of some members of our legislature (just like some of those same groups have with many of those in Congress). I worry a lot about the "buddy" system we see in government already. Just wait until virgin territory sitting on the edge of a beautiful canyon comes up for sale.
If you think access is a problem now, wait until developers start thinking how nice it would be to build houses around the Head of Sinbad or on the edge of the Wedge. Many in our legislature can only see dollar signs, and little else.
Yes, Utah citizens. You had better think long and hard about what your state has in mind for you if they get the chance to lay their hands on federal land.
Some would say these ideas I have of what the state might do are absurd. Fifty years ago, when I first started riding a dirt bike (actually it was a tote gote) we all thought the idea of not being able to go anywhere we want on public land (cross country or not) was absurd too.
Don't put anything past some of the power brokers in this state. Dollars, not the quality of your life nor mine, is the most important thing to them.
As one of our land access advocates put it to me last week, " I would rather have it be all wilderness, than have it be private."