Utah lawmakers are inching closer to a possible lawsuit in the state's push to seize control of federal lands.
The Commission for the Stewardship of Public Lands has voted to put two million dollars towards consulting firms that would give the state legal counsel to pursue the transfer of public lands and help sway public opinion on the matter.
The commission’s co-chair, Rep. Keven Stratton of Orem, said it’s not a matter of swaying public opinion so much as a matter of informing the public about how Utah has been trying to take control of the 31 million acres that the federal government owns.
“You have a lot of misinformation on what that means,” Stratton said. “And the 31 million acres does not include any of our national parks.”
Stratton said just a little over 30 percent of Utah land is not federally owned, and the federal government is not managing its lands very well.
“You’re managing over a third of the land in the western United States from Washington D.C.,” Stratton said. “If you live at the state of Utah, it’s like getting on the phone and calling back on the East Coast and asking them if it’d be good to mow your lawn today.”
The federal government does not just own lands in Utah, and lawmakers in this state are not the only ones pushing for legal action.
Idaho County Commission Chairman Jim Chmelik is asking commissioners from other Western states, including Utah, Wyoming, and Arizona to support a legal challenge over the federal government’s land ownership.
Chmelik said that his plan for legal action is similar to Utah’s and that the purpose of forming a coalition of counties is to bring additional pressure to the federal government in an attempt to let local officials do what he believes they can do better: manage the land in their own states.
“I don’t want fires put out,” Chmelik said. “I want timber logged so that when you have a forest fire, it does what it’s supposed to do, which is go through and burn the undergrowth, open new pine needles up. Positive growth starts. So we can come back in, log the bigger trees later, but instead we get wildfires.”
The Idaho commissioner plans to travel to 100 counties to garner support for what he hopes will lead to legal action on a regional scale.