SALT LAKE CITY — The Utah House GOP caucus met Thursday to hear the latest details on the political fight to gain control of certain federal public lands, with leaders in the battle stressing they are not solitary soldiers on the field.
Rep. Ken Ivory, R-West Jordan, and the legislative sponsor of the 2012 Transfer of Public Lands Act, said there are 37 measures pending in other states across the country, with states including Alaska, Tennessee and Georgia exploring the effort.
"So we are not alone by any means," Ivory said. "It is just a matter of us continuing to put the pressure on from the ground up. The nation looks to this House and this body and this state to lead on this issue."
Utah has 14 different public lands legislative proposals, including HB323, which requires counties to develop their own resource management plans, and SB48, ordering an examination of potential revenues should certain lands come under state control.
Rep. Keven Stratton, R-Orem, and a chairman of the Commission for the Stewardship of Public Lands, urged his GOP House colleagues to become informed and engaged on the public lands debate.
"We need to have a national dialogue on this," Stratton said, "and it has to start with us teaching true principles. If you have critics on this, invite them to come to the table."
Some lawmakers said they had been confronted by constituents over the intent behind the public lands fight and the worry that lands would be sold off or access would decrease.
Stratton and others say it would make little sense to "sell off" those lands when 95 percent of the proceeds would go to the federal government.
"If you had to give 95 percent of the sales of your house, would you do it? So there is really not a lot of motivation to sell it," Stratton said.
Rep. Mike Noel, R-Kanab, waded into a crowd of rallying protesters Monday afternoon at the state Capitol in an event organized by foes of the movement.
Noel said he told protesters that they need to stop talking past each other and begin talking to each other about critical public lands issues.
"We need your input," he said, conveying a portion of the conversation. "We are not going to sell off all these lands. There will be some sold."
Noel said the idea is to maximize the benefit from public lands, not destroy what they have to offer.
"Tourism is a huge part of that," he said. "So is grazing, so is timber harvesting, so is protecting our watersheds. All of those things will benefit from our management, better than a management back in D.C."
Several key leaders in the fight complained that the message and the intent is being skewed or misrepresented in the media and in campaigns organized by opponents.
As part of a request for proposals that went out earlier this month, the state is not only looking for legal expertise but a vendor with public relations skills.