In 2012, Utah passed a law demanding that the U.S. government relinquish its title to much of the National Forest and BLM public land in Utah. This is the latest round in an old struggle for political control of the economic benefits to be derived from western public lands. Participants in this struggle should review the historical impacts of the various extractive activities that have shaped the west since the 1820s. Historical amnesia will likely produce future regrets.
Wallace Stegner reflected on the earlier rounds of this political struggle in his 1969 volume of essays, "The Sound of Mountain Water." "To give the public lands to the states, as the raiders periodically have suggested and will suggest again — their word is "restore," which is untruthful and unhistorical — could have only one of three effects. The states would go bankrupt trying to manage and maintain them; they would let them deteriorate according to precedents well known west of the 100th meridian; or they would turn them over to private or corporate hands to be gutted."
Considering that Utah's House Bill 148 specifically contemplates the sale of public lands into private hands, Stegner's historical perspective and 1969 foresight merit careful consideration.
Salt Lake City
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