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Utahns are divided over whether the state should sue the federal government to gain title to 31 million acres of federal land. They also are split over the appropriateness of San Juan County Commission Chairman Phil Lyman's 10-day jail sentence for leading the Recapture Canyon ATV protest, according to new polling by The Salt Lake Tribune and the University of Utah's Hinckley Institute of Politics.

By a 13-point margin, Utah voters favor filing a suit, estimated to cost taxpayers $14 million, aimed at transferring title of public lands. Support was strongest among Republicans and conservatives, 62 percent and 68 percent, respectively; men, 53 percent; and Mormons at 55 percent. Democrats opposed filing the suit, 61 percent to 18 percent.

About one in five were unsure, although respondents tended to be more certain the older they are.

The overall margin of error was plus or minus 3.2 percentage points.

The phone survey of nearly 1,000 registered voters was conducted between Jan. 6 and 13, about a month after the state's legal consultants released a report saying Utah has a strong argument based on legal principles established at the time of the nation's founding, calling for all states to enjoy equal footing with the original 13. But litigating such a case would by difficult, uncertain and costly, according to the consultant George Wentz of New Orleans.

The Tribune/Hinckley poll results deviate somewhat from those of Colorado College's recent survey in seven Western states. That poll found Utah voters oppose a state takeover of public lands by a 6-point spread, with 47 percent opposing and 41 percent supporting. Support for land transfer was strongest in Utah; region-wide it dropped to 33 percent vs. 58 percent opposed. The same poll found a two-thirds majority of Utah voters supporting the designation of a Bears Ears National Monument to protect the lands around Cedar Mesa that hold thousands of archaeological sites.

However Western voters feel about federal control of land in their states, Washington won't relinquish title without an order from the U.S. Supreme Court or Congress.

Utah's outside legal consultants said the state could convince the courts that federal retention of the land is constitutional, but U. legal scholars say these consultants cherry-picked history and legal precedents to support their recommendation that Utah pursue litigation.

The Tribune/Hinckley poll found support for a suit was weakest among affluent respondents, with just a 2-point margin among those earning more than $80,000, growing to 20 points among those in the $40,000 to $80,000 range.

Education levels had almost no correlation with support for land transfer suit, although opposition was strongest among those whose schooling ended in high school, at 40 percent.

About two-thirds said the $14 million price tag would influence their opinion. That effect was markedly stronger among Democrats.

In another question, about Lyman's jail sentence, now under appeal, nearly a third said the punishment was just right. The percentage of those who felt the sentence was too harsh was 26 percent — the same ratio of those who thought it was too lenient.

Brian Maffly covers public lands for Salt Lake Tribune. Maffly can be reached at or 801-257-8713. Twitter: @brianmaffly What Utahns say about Phil Lyman's sentence. › A14