On Jan. 24, 2008 I wrote a letter to the editor criticizing Representative Maurice Hinchey, (D-NY) for working in Congress to lock up more than 9 and-a-half million acres of Utah's public lands as federal wilderness. I suggested in that letter that the congressman should look to his own state and leave Utah to Utahns.
On March 18 2008, Mr. Hinchey replied to my letter. Mr. Hinchey's response was in two parts. First, he stated that the people of New York, as early as 1882, set aside more than 6 million acre (9,531 sq. mile) for Adirondack State Park and in 1904 the people of New York set aside the 6,000 square- mile Catskill State Park and Forest Reserve. His point here was that the State of New York does have set aside lands and therefore it is not that much different from what he intends for the State of Utah.
Mr. Hinchey's second point stated as '"These are acres owned by the federal government, which means they belong to each and every American. We must take into account our national interest of preserving precious land for this and all future generations to enjoy for eternity."
I would like to respond to each of Mr. Hinchey's points.
First, the Adirondack State Park. According to Wikipedia, the on-line encyclopedia, Adirondack State Park is some 57 percent privately owned. Only 43 percent (2.7 million acres) is state owned land and only "about 1 million acres" of this state land is managed as "wilderness." This is a far cry from the 6.1 million acres that Mr. Hinchey holds up as comparable to what he is trying to do in Utah.
With the Catskill State Park, the congressman offers an even more egregious distortion. Catskill State Park consists of 1,120 square miles (716,800 acres) and not 9,531 square miles (6.1 million acres) as he stated in his letter. Of this lesser area, only 41 percent or 287,514 acres are state owned and managed as "wilderness" or forest reserves.
The City of New York with 5 percent of the land and private persons own the remainder of the land in the Catskill State Park. There are 50,000 residents living within the Catskills.
Besides the errors of representation made by the congressman, he does not mention that both of these New York State parks are laced with resorts, hotels, constructed trails, ski resorts, constructed reservoirs, summer cottages for the elites from New York City and more. Of course one would expect these improvements when more than half of the land referred to by him is actually privately owned.
Finally, the good congressman did not mention the difference between state "wilderness" in these two state parks and federal "wilderness," as he conceives it on Utah's public lands. According to Wikipedia, management of the wilderness lands in these state parks is "slightly less restrictive" than federal wilderness management on our public lands and "even less restrictive" on park lands that are designated as "forest reserves."
There is yet one more significant distinction to be made between the state parks of New York and federal wilderness in Utah. The state parks in New York were formed by the people of the State of New York and are maintained under state law. The wilderness that the congressman would establish in Utah would be established by the legislators of the other 49 states and maintained under federal law. The people of the State of Utah are to be only bit players in the process. The congressman attempts to justify this fact by noting that "these are acres owned by the federal government, which means they belong to each and every American" ... and this is where the story gets really interesting.
If the history of the federal lands were to be truthfully told, it would be clear that, "yes," the United States currently "holds" title in the public lands of Utah. However, it would also be clear that the United States is constitutionally obligated to extinguish that title and relinquish the lands to the people of the State of Utah. These lands are no different than the lands of the northwest and southwest territories, the Louisiana Purchase, and the Florida cession which were disposed of under the same constitutional mandate. Research into the origins of the federal territorial system provides abundant proof of this. Research proves also that the only legal role of the United States and Congress relative to these lands is to dispose of them and to protect them from waste pending their disposal.
As shocking as these conclusions may be to some, they are true. Simple logic suggests that Congress has no constitutional authority to hold Utah's public lands as perpetual federal jurisdictional territory. I have researched these things myself and I have learned much of what I know from a book written by two Utah men, Bill Howell of Helper and Bill Redd of Blanding. For anyone that may be interested, their book is titled Statehood: the Territorial Imperative. The research in this book is astounding. I encourage anyone who is interested in learning the truth about the federal trust obligation respecting our public lands to read it.