My view: Duty to country does not include liquidating our public lands

By John F. Forsman

Published: Sunday, Dec. 4 2011 12:00 a.m. MST

Scenic views toward Park City are seen from Guardsman Pass in Big Cottonwood Canyon Tuesday, Sept. 27, 2011.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

Enlarge photo»

Utah is a state that I am proud to call my home. Friends who visit always remark how truly enchanting this land is. I have traveled extensively but to this day, have not seen anything more magnificent than rain-swelled waterfalls pouring off of sandstone canyon walls or newly fallen snow in the Wasatch. Utah's diverse geography has it all, from mountains and canyons to deserts and rivers. I love this land.

Service runs deep in my blood. I am a Vietnam veteran, and my service did not end when I left the battlefield. I retired as a CW4 Master Aviator in the U.S Army (active and reserve). My tour of duty in Vietnam taught me many things, including the values of leadership and the importance of sacrifice. This is why I am speaking out about protecting public lands in Utah, an issue that is very near and dear to my heart.

Our public lands hold a special value to the veterans' community. As Utah's finest return from deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan, these lands serve as a healing place for our brave men and women to find peace and help them reconnect with family.

In recent months, I have been very disappointed with our elected leadership in Washington, D.C. Our public lands are clearly under attack as dozens of efforts to undermine sensible public policy and responsible stewardship have been initiated. It threatens the very fabric of America. Sadly, the main architects of these policies that seek to destroy what we've built in the West since the days of Teddy Roosevelt are from Utah.

Sen. Mike Lee and Rep. Jason Chaffetz have introduced the Disposal of Excess Federal Lands Act of 2011. This bill proposes selling off 3.3 million acres of western public lands, including 133,000 acres in Utah, despite current uses of those lands (including hunting and grazing); questions about access; and the presence of historical, cultural and paleontological resources. In addition, the government report heralded by Chaffetz and Lee to justify their legislation is 14 years old and never received any serious public comment or scrutiny.

In addition, Rep. Rob Bishop and Sen. Orrin Hatch have introduced the Action Plan for Public Lands and Education Act of 2011 which would allow Western states to take ownership of 5 percent of certain federal public lands within their boundary. This would result in a giveaway of 30 million acres of land owned by the American people, releasing tens of billions of dollars of American assets critical for drinking water, recreation and other multiple uses at a time when the federal deficit and our nation's fiscal future is in crisis. This simply does not add up.

Finally, the Wasatch Range Recreation Access Enhancement Act is yet another proposal that would trample Utah's natural heritage. This bill would direct fragile public watershed lands, which provide drinking water to Salt Lake City residents, to be sold to a foreign company for the purpose of building a gondola connecting two ski resorts.

This flies in the face of the overriding public sentiment that shaped the most recent National Forest plan for the Wasatch, which prohibits ski area expansion. However, this legislation is backed by all of Utah's congressional delegation with the exception of Rep. Jim Matheson, who I assume believes the people of Utah are better equipped to make a decision on this land than the four legislators trying to bypass them in Washington.

As a veteran I did not fight for these lands to see them sold to the highest bidder. When I helped defend our nation, I did my part. That's why I expect our elected officials to do their part — to ensure stewardship of our lands held in the public trust — instead of trying to liquidate them for short-term gain.

John F. Forsman is a resident of Salt Lake City and a Vietnam Veteran. He is a member of the Vet Voice Foundation.

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