SALT LAKE CITY — Utahns concerned about federal land trust and states' rights issues gathered Saturday at the University of Utah for Utah's Freedom Conference.
This year, the conference focused on restoring states' powers, empowering constitutional sheriffs and reclaiming Western lands. Speakers at the event included Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, and John Swallow, the Republican candidate for attorney general.
"We are educating the public about their rights, about states' and local counties' rights to control public lands and the entire country," said Mike Swenson, who assists the American Lands Council with government affairs. "Our goal is really simple — that states and counties have the right and control of the land and the resources of the Western United States."
Swenson, who also works for the Utah Shared Access Alliance, a nonprofit group that represents about 12,000 off-roaders in Utah, spoke during an afternoon breakout session that focused on reclaiming Western lands.
New Mexico's Otero County Commissioner Ronny Rardin, Nevada's Elko County Commissioner Demar Dahl and Rep. Ken Ivory, R-West Jordan, also spoke during the session.
Ivory is the architect of HB148, signed into law by Gov. Gary Herbert, which gives the government a deadline to relinquish title to the federal lands it holds in Utah, with the exception of areas like national parks, national monuments and congressionally designated wilderness areas.
"States are separate and independent sovereigns, but sometimes they have to act like it," Ivory told the Deseret News earlier this week.
Speakers in the breakout session also responded to questions about efforts to get Utah to drop HB148.
"Think about North Dakota and Utah," Ivory said. "We came in as states within five years apart — the promises that statehood to dispose of the land, word for word the same. There may be a comma different. North Dakota gets 100 percent of its mineral royalty monies; Utah gets 46 percent. … Just that change alone is hundreds of millions of dollars."