With a residence and business in southern Utah, I have a deep connection to our public lands, and not only because they serve as the anchor for my business and livelihood. The redrock deserts, canyons, towering cliffs and aspen-layered mountains are my soul's way to transcend the weariness of everyday life.
So I'm not surprised that thousands of Utahns agree that our public lands are a valuable resource. Recent polling by Colorado College's "State of the Rockies" project shows vast majorities support protection of our public lands. In Utah, 96 percent agree that public lands are essential to the state's economy. When given the most up-to-date information on proposals to sell off public lands, 67 percent of Utahns are opposed.
These numbers make me wonder why many of our elected officials, including Gov. Gary Herbert, advocate the transfer to state ownership of up to 30 million acres of federally owned land in Utah. We've all heard proponents say, "Utah can do a better job of managing those lands," or "It will benefit our kids through more funding for public education."
But, frankly, if you believe those arguments I have some ocean front property in Utah to sell you.
First, it takes a lot of money to manage that amount of land. Federal agencies such as the Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Forest Service and National Park Service spend over $650 million a year to manage our public lands.
Second, our Legislature struggles to find the money just to manage our state parks. So how would Utah find the resources to properly manage another 30 million acres? We'd have to lease or sell to the highest bidder. Actually, the main proponents of this idea are fine with leasing or selling off the lands because their real agenda is to make those lands available for mineral extraction or for sale to private interests.
Think big real estate developers. Think land-locked. Think polluted air, watersheds and aquifers. Think dwindling tourism. That's when my business and all others like mine are harmed. That's when we start having to lay off employees. That's when Utah starts losing its home-grown tax revenue stream.
My brothers run cattle on their ranches in Texas, a land-locked state. They complain that Texas has no federal land for grazing cattle. And that they must travel to Utah to fish or hunt, or otherwise pay hundreds or thousands to do so on private land in their own state. How would we feel if our favorite spot in southern Utah were closed off with a sign that says "Private Property No Trespassing ABC Oil Exploration"?
Who's promoting this idea? HB148, the Transfer of Public Lands Act, was shepherded through the Utah Legislature by Republican Rep. Ken Ivory. The name Ivory in Utah means real estate. The Senate sponsor, Republican Wayne Niederhauser is also big in real estate. Then there's Gov. Gary Herbert. The largest portion of his war chest comes from real estate and energy interests (dirty energy). So here's the real "land grab": private developers and tax-subsidized extractive industries spoiling our lands, air and watersheds, only to take their profits out of state.
Worse, Utah couldn't benefit from any sell-off of the public lands. When title is transferred to a state, federal law requires that 95 percent of sales proceeds be returned to federal coffers. Utah taxpayers would bear all the costs, while the feds would retain the profits.
And sadly, as always, Utah schools get the short end of the stick.
Ty Markham is a licensed psychologist, former teacher, current business owner, town council member, author of a "land-grab" petition, and a 2012 candidate for Utah House District 73. She lives in Torrey.