Utah analyzing costs, benefits of taking land from the feds

Published: Monday, Aug. 12 2013 3:58 p.m. MDT

Zion National Park, Wednesday, May 30, 2012.

Ravell Call, Deseret News

Enlarge photo»

SALT LAKE CITY — The state of Utah wants to get down to the details of what it would cost and how much money it could make by owning federal lands within its borders.

Controversial but popular among the state's political conservatives, the move to demand the federal government relinquish title to the majority of the land it controls within Utah is about to enter its next phase — the analysis of the money involved.

"We need to determine the economic costs, how expensive it is to manage natural resources in Utah and what revenue they generate," said John Harja, senior policy analyst with the Public Lands Policy Coordination Office.

To that end, the agency is hosting a public lands informational meeting from 1 to 3 p.m. Wednesday in the auditorium of the State Office Building, behind the state Capitol.

Researchers who have until November of 2014 to finish their analysis will be present during the meeting in an open-house format to hear what facets the study should undertake, Harja said.

"They're going to be looking at all sources of revenue, including oil and gas. It is complex. If we are missing information on a particular source, we'd like to know about it."

A team of researchers from the University of Utah's Bureau of Economic and Business Research, Utah State University and Weber State University will conduct the cost-benefit analysis that explores the expenditures of the federal government on lands in Utah, and revenue from those same lands.

The study was mandated by the passage of HB142, which directed an extensive financial treatise on the ramifications of Utah taking over tens of millions of acres owned by agencies such as the Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Forest Service.

The measure provided $450,000 in funding for the study, which is a follow-up to the Transfer of Public Lands Act, which was passed in 2012 by the Utah Legislature.

Sponsored by Rep. Ken Ivory, R-West Jordan, HB142 is a tempest among state sovereignty issues — a rallying cry to reduce the federal government's regulatory influence on public lands by demanding it cede title to lands critics say have been promised since statehood.

The movement has been gaining traction among like-minded states in the West with much of their land under ownership by the federal government, and even South Carolina approved a resolution of support for the theory.

In June, Nevada became the fifth state to explore gaining ownership of federal lands within its borders.

Multiple groups in Utah, however, are dismayed at the movement, rising in vocal criticism to what they say is a costly, ill-advised battle that will prove fruitless.

For Kids and Lands is an education coalition group that formed in response to the state's rights issue over public lands, arguing the actions will harm schoolchildren financially, not benefit them.

Utah Gov. Gary Herbert has said the intent is not to "sell off" all of the federal land Utah controls — the efforts do not apply to national parks or wilderness areas — but to strike a balance between resource protection and economic development.

Email: amyjoi@deseretnews.com

Twitter: amyjoi16

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