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Most Utahns want a new approach to public lands one that's balanced and includes both natural areas and energy development according to an Envision Utah survey.
The results of the public lands piece of the massive "Your Utah, Your Future" online survey, conducted last spring, was released Sunday.
Nearly 53,000 Utahns took the survey, which asks what they want for Utah's future on a range of topics, from education to agriculture and from housing to public lands. The idea is to shape public policies so Utah is a place people want to live in 2050, when its population is expected to reach 5.4 million. The state now has nearly 3 million residents.
Kathleen Clarke, director of Utah's Public Lands Policy Coordinating Office, said she wasn't surprised by the results.
"They want exceptionally good stewardship. They love the land and feel a responsibility for it," she said. "They recognize a need for energy. But I think they are saying we need to be thoughtful about development and about uses. We need to pay particular attention to watersheds."
Some 19,000 people took the public-lands part of the survey, and the results were affirmed in a Dan Jones & Associates poll of another 1,264 Utahns who were randomly selected, said Ari Bruening, chief operating officer of Envision Utah.
The survey found that 54 percent of Utahns want public lands managed to maintain and improve ecosystems and watersheds, promote energy self-sufficiency, provide recreational access and foster jobs and economic development.
A sizable minority 29 percent said they wanted more public lands set aside for nature and preservation in the coming years, and less for energy development and livestock grazing.
A much smaller group 11 percent said they want more land for energy development and grazing and no more land protected from development.
Only 8 percent said they wanted the public lands managed as they are today.
Clarke said she hopes policymakers will consider the survey as they decide land issues. "I hope ... it is kind of a guiding document that can help us find our way forward."
She was slightly surprised that nearly a third of Utahns said they want more land for nature and preservation.
"I don't think that necessarily means they want this much more wilderness or national parks. What I think it says is they value the natural part of Utah that makes it so iconic," said Clarke, who was chairwoman of the governor-appointed public-lands action team that helped craft the survey.
The committee was comprised of several dozen lawmakers, county commissioners and representatives of industry and environmental groups.
Attorney David Garbett represented the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance on the committee.
"When I hear people say they want balance, I agree with that. I assume they want a policy where … protection is on the table."
And, in Utah, he said, protecting lands or watersheds is often not on the table.
He pointed to a legislative action several years ago to create an energy zone in Uintah County that elevated energy development over other uses of public land.
"That's not balance," Garbett said. "That's one use and only one use."
The fact that nearly a third of Utahns want more public land preserved and not developed for energy and grazing, he added, should send a message to the Legislature and congressional delegation.
"The majority of Utahns do want more [balance]," Garbett said, "and they're asking their political leaders for balance."