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Utah's lawsuit against the Interior Department to end a policy that fits nicely with federal law but has been defunded for this year is nothing but grandstanding, reaffirming for deep-pocket energy companies that Utah is in their camp when it comes to management of public lands.

Attorney General Mark Shurtleff is happy to make Utah the first energy-rich state to object to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar's move to return the Bureau of Land Management to its original mission of identifying public lands that deserve to be protected. And Gov. Gary Herbert, who pocketed at least $396,000 in campaign contributions from energy developers just last year, is perfectly willing to make the announcement that Utah wants to prevent the BLM setting aside lands valuable for their scenic beauty, watershed, quiet recreational opportunities and cultural treasure.

Legal experts say Salazar's reversal of a questionable deal between former Utah Gov. Mike Leavitt and then-Interior Secretary Gayle Norton to remove the BLM's authority to designate wild lands is in line with the 1976 Land Policy and Management Act. The Leavitt-Norton deal, on the other hand, tied the BLM's hands in direct opposition to the federal law's call for continual inventorying "to reflect changes in conditions and to identify new and emerging resource and other values."

The need for the BLM to make changes in its inventory of wild lands, protected until Congress can consider them for wilderness designation, has been highlighted in recent years by the increasing use of all-terrain vehicles on public lands. The threat of overuse by these potentially destructive machines and a few irresponsible users is reason enough for the BLM to have authority to step in to save fragile areas that might have withstood constant use by non-motorized recreationists but will be destroyed by those on four wheels.

Energy development and mining also evolve, both in their ability to reach scenic lands and the economic feasibility of mining or drilling in remote areas when fuel prices rise. Areas that once would not have been considered by developers are now on the drilling permit list.

Herbert pays lip service to an interest in alternative energy development, but his policies underscore his loyalty to fossil fuels. In supporting this lawsuit he also ignores the economic benefits of wilderness and wild lands. Outdoor recreation is big business in the Beehive State, and it is a sustainable industry, while companies that extract coal, oil and gas will depart, leaving scars that won't heal anytime soon.