Steven M. Thiese: We must protect our public lands

By Steven M. Thiese

Published: Wednesday, Dec. 26 2012 12:00 a.m. MST

Forcing the public to give up ownership of 30 million acres is far from "balanced" — it's a crazy solution looking for a problem. Our gorgeous public lands are what make Utah unique to the world and also provides all Utahns with a distinctive identity, one I fear is taken for granted by those with a profit-driven agenda. Go spend a couple weeks in Ohio or Texas for comparison.

Photo courtesy Ravell Call

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After 26 years of service, I retired from the military in 2003. During my time in uniform, my assignments took me to Normandy for the 40th anniversary of D-Day, road building in Central America, the Army War College, Bosnia and many other places across our great country and around the world.

Not a day goes by when I'm not reminded of how good we Americans have it, and how much we take for granted, like our quality of life and individual liberties.

So I was struck recently with the irony of "monument-al" proportions: Utah's political leaders strategized over their demand that the feds give up ownership of 30 million acres of public lands, while in the same week the Outdoor Industry Association (OIA) and more than 100 outdoor-related businesses asked President Obama to designate 1.4 million acres of federal wildlands surrounding Canyonlands National Park as a national monument.

Personally, and no doubt due to my military experiences, I was thrilled to see the OIA step up and ask Obama for a monument designation of the Greater Canyonlands region of southeastern Utah.

Having lived in Utah since 1967, I have a great appreciation for Utah's spectacular public lands. The canyons and mesas that surround Canyonlands are as visually stunning as the park itself, but without the crowds. These natural sanctuaries help me and many of my colleagues heal from our wounds. I hope these places remain wild and public for my grandkids and their kids.

I've heard the political rhetoric about how, according to Gov. Gary Herbert, "this is a balanced approach" to land management, or "the state can do a better job of managing our resources," or even the claim it will help "provide funding for public education."

Forcing the public to give up ownership of 30 million acres is far from "balanced" — it's a crazy solution looking for a problem. Our gorgeous public lands are what make Utah unique to the world and also provides all Utahns with a distinctive identity, one I fear is taken for granted by those with a profit-driven agenda. Go spend a couple weeks in Ohio or Texas for comparison.

As was pointed out recently to a legislative interim committee, federal management of Utah's public lands brings in more than $620 million in combined economic activity and direct revenues to the state and counties. Before criticizing the feds over land management policies, perhaps Herbert should confer with the governors of those states with no public lands.

Some legislators argue that less public lands will help the state fund public education. This argument has no merit considering that many states near the top of per-pupil funding do so with little or no public lands. Rather, they make public education a top priority. Clearly, the Legislature is simply using the education funding issue as a disingenuous way to make their case for grabbing 30 million acres of public lands.

Considering we can't fully fund Utah's remarkable state parks, how do you plan to manage 30 million more acres of state lands without selling or leasing it to the highest bidder? Evidently, the Legislature cannot be depended upon to consider the broader constituency of Utahns. Therefore, obtaining a monument designation for Greater Canyonlands through the Antiquities Act seems to be the most reasonable and visionary approach to land management in Utah.

Steven M. Thiese is a raving sports fan and an outdoor recreation enthusiast. He has lived in Sugar House for 40 years.

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