The governor's suggestion came after groups representing hunters protested the proposed leases. And it has the backing of U.S. Rep. Rob Bishop, another Utah Republican who, like Herbert, is often heard to oppose protection of land and prefer the exploitation of public property for private benefit.
To a degree, Herbert and Bishop still want the land turned to the benefit of a few, in this case, hunters. And not just any hunters, but those flush enough to wander deep into roadless areas in search of trophy elk.
Still, the two are right to notice that some things, in some places, are of greater benefit than another rig or well. Not everyone would look at the same piece of land and come to the same conclusions, but it is encouraging that two of the state's top leaders see that debate is not always to be resolved in favor of the boom-and-bust extractive economy.
There are other lands around the state that deserve to be protected rather than denuded and left for dead. Not all of them are home to trophy animals or striking vistas. Some of them have a key place in complicated ecosystems, or make it possible for harried human beings to go someplace completely quiet.
And such lands, so preserved, will attract the most important species of all, the money-spending tourist, in ever-greater numbers, from now through the end of time, while drilling and mining will, by definition, eventually peter out.
It is ironic that the way of public education is to spend money now for public benefit later, while SITLA, which is supposed to raise money for education, favors making money now and leaving the future to fend for itself. If SITLA managers need the governor to step in occasionally to remind them of this contradiction, then maybe the laws that create and empower that independent agency need to be changed.