Utah lawmakers flex muscle in federal lands fight

Published: Wednesday, Feb. 27 2013 5:40 p.m. MST

Ivory said because local and state agencies have chosen to defer to the federal government's land management practices and even to agency fire responses, the effect has been the creation of an untenable situation that puts lives and communities at risk.

"We are supposed to sit around and wait for the forests to burn down," he said. "It doesn't make sense."

The resolution urges the state to throw its support behind counties and cities if they stand up to the federal government on land management issues.

Such a legal showdown has played out in the Old West town of Tombstone, Ariz., where the Forest Service has refused to allow heavy equipment into a wilderness area to repair lines providing the town's chief source of water.

The water rights predate the Wilderness Act, which the Forest Service said requires it to follow a lengthy review process to allow repairs to the lines to happen. Ivory said what is ironic is that the lines were damaged in a debris flow in the aftermath of a wildfire on federal lands that weren't managed properly at the outset.

"These things are happening all over the West," Ivory said.

On Wednesday, the Utah House of Representatives endorsed a legislative measure that directs a study and financial analysis of Ivory's public lands act.

HB142, sponsored by Rep. Roger Barrus, R-Centerville, calls for a detailed report on federal lands' impacts to sources of revenue to the state; whether federal funds have been sufficient to manage those lands; and what type of economic benefits could be realized at a greater extent if the state took control.

In a lively discussion on the House floor, Rep. Mike Noel, R-Kanab, urged his colleagues' support.

"We have to stand up and say, 'Enough is enough.' We cannot take a moderate position. We have to stand up and be counted," Noel said. "And if you represent a rural area, you understand the overriding oppression of federal intervention into our lives better than anyone else."

Several Democrats said they are supporting Barrus' bill because it will demonstrate once and for all the costly and foolhardy nature of the state's pursuit of federal lands.

The bill now goes to the Senate.

E-mail: amyjoi@desnews.com

Twitter: amyjoi16

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