This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2016, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
The Outdoor Alliance, representing the outdoor recreation industry, released a statement this week warning of the threat to public recreation lands that is intensifying among politicians throughout the country.
The timeliness for Utahns of this statement is important, while not intentional.
It came just a few days after an op-ed piece in last Sunday's Salt Lake Tribune by four Utah legislators Senate President Wayne Niederhauser, R-Sandy, House Speaker Greg Hughes, R-Draper, Sen. David Hinkins, R-Orangeville, and Rep. Keven Stratton, R-Orem, the co-chairs of the Legislature's Commission for the Stewardship of Public Lands (CSPL).
That op-ed justified the Legislature's approval of using taxpayer dollars to sue the federal government for the transfer of 31 million acres of public lands in Utah from federal to state control.
The Legislature this session authorized $4.5 million as a down payment for that effort, using a study conducted by a law firm that stands to benefit from that appropriation that said the state had a good chance to prevail in the lawsuit.
The CSPL has recommended spending up to $14 million of taxpayer money on efforts to wrest control of the lands from the Bureau of Land Management, the U.S. Forest Service and other federal agencies.
Interestingly, that firm that did the study won't share its details with the two skeptical Democrats on the commission Sen. Jim Dabakis and Rep. Joel Briscoe, both D-Salt Lake City.
The reason the statement from the Outdoor Alliance is timely for Utahns, in light of the legislators' op-ed, can be seen in the premise of its opening lines.
"In the past year, the battle over who owns America's public lands has intensified," it says. "A few powerful special interests are pushing legislation to transfer millions of acres of mountains, forests, rivers, plains, and open spaces to state governments. Their goal is to see our public lands privatized, sold off or developed. Public lands are an American legacy, and as outdoorists we have a lot to lose."
Gee, were they talking about our very own Neiderhauser, Hughes, Hinkins and Stratton?
The whole op-ed argument from our esteemed legislators was built around how Utahns have become second-class citizens, enslaved by the feds to live on lands they can't control, can't access and can't benefit from.
Reading the Outdoor Alliance piece, a cynical person might conclude the legislators are merely dancing on the strings of powerful puppeteers the powerful special interests the Outdoor Alliance is talking about that want to see that land under state control so it can be sold off to private interests for profit-making endeavors.
The Utah Legislature has a strong presence in the American Legislative Exchange Council, a national organization that brings state legislators and powerful business interests together to devise legislation the lawmakers take back to their states that will benefit the powerful business interests.
Niederhauser was named 2009 ALEC legislator of the year and has been a top officer in the organization.
Putting 31 million acres of public land in the hands of state lawmakers could benefit greatly business interests involved in ALEC.
The Outdoor Alliance describes the difference between federally controlled public lands and state trust lands, which are lands whose resources can be used to generate wealth to benefit education through a school trust.
Such lands can, under certain circumstances, be vulnerable to development.
The goal of the special interests, according to the Outdoor Alliance, is to "see our public lands privatized, sold off or developed. Public lands are an American legacy, and as outdoorists we have a lot to lose. How much? The Public Land Heist threatens 543 river runs; 6,688 climbing areas; and 12,659 miles of mountain bike trails."
Those are national figures, but Utah would be affected greatly.
According to the State Office of Tourism, visitors spend $7.9 billion annually in Utah, which translates into $1.09 billion in state and local taxers.
An earlier Outdoor Alliance statement, released in March, debunks "four myths" propagated by critics of federal protections for the vast recreation and wilderness areas, particularly in the west.
Myth 1: "The federal government owns a vast majority of acreage in the West, locking Americans off lands that rightfully belong to them."
Fact: "Our national public lands already belong to all Americans, who may access them at any time for recreation and enjoyment."
Myth 2: "The U.S. government is obligated to give these lands back to western states, their rightful owners."
Fact: "The claim that the U.S. government is under any legal obligation to give some or all of the public lands to western states lacks any credible legal foundation."
Myth 3: "The idea of states taking over public lands is popular in the West and will improve the economy."
Fact: "State control of our shared public lands would result in loss of access to places that support a $646 billion-dollar economic engine in America every year."
Myth 4: "States can afford to manage large areas of public land."
Fact: "Taking over public lands would cost states millions of dollars every year and force increased commodity development to cover the fiscal shortfall."
So, hey, just call our legislators the Band of Merry Myth-makers.