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Op-ed: Utah officials scheme the ultimate land grab

Published June 17, 2017 2:51 pm
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2017, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

With America's national monuments under review by the Trump administration, Utah's politicians have made their next move toward the ultimate land grab – stripping protections from and selling away America's public lands.

From sportsmen to conservationists, those of us who strive to be good stewards of the land are dismayed to find ourselves facing the real threat of losing this piece of our heritage. With the current administration changing the rules of the game day by day, the deck has clearly been stacked against us.

Earlier this year, Congress significantly changed the rules of the game. This rules change makes it so that their budget office will not have to determine the value of federal lands being given to the states – making it possible for Utah to grab America's public lands without compensating for their true monetary value.

Four days after Donald Trump took office, Rep. Jason Chaffetz introduced legislation to dispose of 3.3 million acres of federal land in 10 Western states. With the overwhelming uproar from his sportsmen constituents, he quickly withdrew this proposal. However, this card can be replayed at any time.

At the state level, Utah state politicians introduced resolutions to rescind the Bears Ears National Monument, downsize Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument and ban the use of the Antiquities Act. These resolutions were based on misrepresentations blaming national monuments for a host of unrelated or nonexistent problems.

State politicians continue to propose transferring hundreds of millions of acres of America's public land to state ownership, despite the fact that studies have shown that it would cost Utah more money to manage these lands than they would make from them. The only way to balance the budget would be to sell off the most valuable lands to private ownership.

Utah's public lands are regularly auctioned off to the highest bidder. This year wealthy developers bought a section of state land along the historic Hole-in-the Rock Trail. As soon as the lands were in private hands, the gate to access the incredible lands along Butler Wash and Comb Ridge in the Bears Ears National Monument was locked. If Utah is given control of America's public lands, watch for future "No tresspassing" signs blocking your access to other special places that you previously enjoyed.

Utah's congressional delegation and governor showed their hand as they were smiling ear-to-ear this spring as Trump signed his executive order to review national monuments. It's no accident that Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante are the bookends to the arbitrary timeline of the executive order. A cursory 120-day review is too little time for Interior Secretary Zinke to truly assess the value of these special lands that have taken decades of hard work to protect.

The American people come to worship and benefit from these landscapes, places that the Trump administration cannot shrink or eliminate without undermining their cultural and natural resources. If we allow the precedent of stripping protections of any national monument, then all such protected public lands will be at risk.

The Western Energy Alliance has confirmed industry's interest in drilling in Utah's national monument lands. The executive order "reviewing" monuments is simply part of a larger effort to sell off America's public lands for fossil fuel development driven by the American Land Exchange Council, funded by the Koch brothers.

As these political shenanigans are played out, the only way for us to win this game is for all Americans, particularly Utahns, to take a stand. Please support Utah's national monuments by submitting comments before July 10 at MonumentsforAll.org. It is time to call the bluff of the Utah Delegation in their crusade for the ultimate land grab.

Keith Watts is the founder and owner of Earth Tours, based in Boulder, Utah.






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