Salazar, sportsmen chide states' public lands movement

By Amy Joi O'Donoghue, Deseret News

Published: Thu, Aug. 14, 2014, 5:35 p.m. MDT

 A hiker goes through the San Rafael Swell, in Emery County.

A hiker goes through the San Rafael Swell, in Emery County.

(Steve Baker, Deseret News archives)

SALT LAKE CITY — A states' rights, public lands movement with its genesis in Utah was blasted by former Interior Secretary Ken Salazar Thursday as an effort that threatens to undo the successes of American conservation policy.

"This would roll back 100 years of public lands progress," he said in a teleconference hosted by the National Wildlife Federation.

"This would cause Teddy Roosevelt to roll over in his grave if he knew what the Republican National Committee's position was in respect to our public lands."

Roosevelt is regarded as the presidential architect of public lands conservation in the United States, creating a flurry of national parks, monuments and wildlife refuges under his administration, as well signing the Antiquities Act into law that gives presidents the executive power over such decisions.

In the teleconference, Salazar emphasized that a resolution endorsed by the Republican National Committee in favor of the Western states' movement is wrong-headed.

"These lands are the nation's birthright," he said. "They do not belong to one state."

The Transfer of Public Lands Act was passed in Utah two years ago and calls on the federal government to cede title to lands that some say were supposed to be "disposed" of at statehood.

Sponsored by Rep. Ken Ivory, R-West Jordan, the law is at the center of a movement that has gained political traction among Utah's neighbors and sympathetic support from critics who say the federal government has too much control in the West.

The effort seeks transfers of vast swaths of Forest Service and BLM lands into state or private control, generating revenue that would support cash-strapped public school systems.

In Utah, more than 65 percent of the land is under the purview of the federal government, which "take back" supporters say puts the state at an economic disadvantage when it comes to tax revenues.

But critics say to sell or trade off public lands is to relinquish lands cherished by U.S. citizens and envied by countries around the world.

"America's national parks, monuments and rugged landscapes are not only a draw for people in this country but across the globe," said Peter Metcalf, president and chief executive officer of Salt Lake City-based Black Diamond, a clothing and outdoor equipment company. "No other country in the world has the public land infrastructure that we have. "

While the anti-public lands movement — at least in Utah — does not seek to dismantle national parks or monuments, Metcalf said he sees it as a real threat to the outdoor recreation economy.

"I see no other issue as strategically threatening to the vibrancy of one of America's most significant, sustainable and growing sectors … and the American outdoor industry is the world's leader. It is one of the few industries where America still dominates."

Metcalf said he first heard of the anti-public lands movement about 18 months ago, an ideological mission he said most dismissed out of hand because it was so "right-wing and so unimaginable."

"Now, because of our deafening silence and the fact that we did not mobilize earlier, something that people thought was inconceivable … is actually a plank in the Republican National Committee. Clearly it has gained momentum."

Utah has led out in a public policy and legislative push against continued federal land management and in Congress, a number of bills seek to rein in the power of agencies like the BLM and the Forest Service.

The festering resentment over federal land management policies on such activities like grazing, wild horses, oil and gas development, forest management and endangered species has crystalized in conflicts like that of Cliven Bundy's showdown over "trespassing" cattle and a defiant ATV ride in San Juan County.

The federation's Collin O'Mara said booting the public off the land, however, is not the answer.

"Resolutions like these cut against more than a century's worth of precedent," he said, noting that he'd visited the Salmon River area of Idaho recently, reveling in its beauty.

"The idea that lands like those could be closed off from visitors, from residents, from wildlife lovers of all stripes is a terrifying proposition because of the connection with nature that could be lost through these kind of activities," said O'Mara, the federation's president and chief executive officer.

Email: amyjoi@deseretnews.com, Twitter: amyjoi16

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1. deserthound
Salt Lake City, UT,
Aug. 15, 2014

Salazar and Metcalf are spot on. This crazy idea is the product of greed and shortsightedness. It's critically important for the public to understand that 1) you can't "take back" what you never owned. Utah never owned these lands. The federal government took ownership (and Utah agreed to cede ownwership upon statehood) and retains it because the state never had the resources (money and manpower) to own it and manage it. True throughout the west because of lack of water. 2) The feds spend on average about $650 million annually in Utah managing BLM, FS, NPS, and FWS lands, money that stays in Utah for vendors, contractors, employees, etc. 3) Utah can't even find the money to manage its state parks. Where will Utah find the money to manage another 30 million acres? It won't. The only solution is to lease and sell it off to private interests, which is what this is really about. Period. Ken Ivory and Gary Herbert know this but they are not being honest with the public. If we're going to have a discussion about Utah taking ownership of federal lands, let's at least have an honest discussion.

2. kiddsport
Fairview, UT,
Aug. 15, 2014

National Wildlife Federation's O'Mara says,"The idea that lands like those could be closed off from visitors, from residents, from wildlife lovers of all stripes is a terrifying proposition because of the connection with nature that could be lost through these kind of activities." Was he referring to the federal closure during the sequester? I agree, it was terrifying... and unjust. It would be as unjust if those lands were being administered by the state. The only difference would be the control being closer to locals if it were administered locally.

3. kiddsport
Fairview, UT,
Aug. 15, 2014

correction to deserthound- the federal government spends about $650 million mismanaging BLM lands... Just refer to the DN article on the backlog of oil well inspections, amounting to about one inspection per month per inspector, if I recall.

4. Swiss
Price, Utah,
Aug. 15, 2014

Yes, Mr. Metcalf there is a distinct possibility that 9.1 million acres of Federal Land in Utah will be closed to most. SUWA et al have proposed that it be made into Wilderness. The bikers shown above would be banned from the part of the Swell they are shown having such a good time in. Indeed most Millenials have been found to not care for back packing the only way that Wilderness designation allows. They would have to go in by horseback. No wheelchairs,fire trucks or helicopters allowed. This of course is true of all Congressionally designated Wilderness areas not only in Utah but throughout the West.
I don't want Congress to designate any Wilderness without input from representatives of Utah's Federal, State, and County Representatives. The same goes for any President designating new Monuments.
Let them all talk to Elijah Cummings he at least has seen some of the lands.
We have had to much acreage set aside in Wilderness Study Areas for to long in this state.