The recent op-ed “Beautiful Utah is — and will stay — a public lands state” (Feb. 27) penned by Reps. Keven Stratton and Mike Noel, with help from the Sutherland Institute, uses sweet words such as “protecting health and accessibility” and “principled restraint” to disguise its true motivations of justifying a state-sponsored land grab. Actions speak louder than words and these representatives’ actions threatening America’s federal public lands in Utah come through loud and clear.
They contend that Utah loves its public lands and there is little question that this is so. Utahns are rightfully proud of our state’s federal public lands. In this way we stand shoulder to shoulder with Americans from all walks of life and from all parts of the country who have a deep and abiding love of this place and want to see it protected from the machinations of politicians acting at the behest of oil, gas and real estate interests.
As evidence of Utah politicians’ “love of the land” Stratton and Noel point to recent legislative efforts, such as the Utah Wilderness Act and Utah Land Management Act, as proof that they come in peace. Importantly, the premise underlying these examples is that Utah must first take the unprecedented step of wresting control of America’s federal public lands away from their rightful owners — the American people — and only then would these newly enacted laws come into play. And once you get past the pleasant-sounding names, the plain language of these laws makes clear that the playing field is heavily tilted against preservation and in favor of extraction and development.
Turning to national monuments, the legislators acknowledge that many of Utah’s most popular national parks — Zion, Bryce, Arches and Capitol Reef — all began as national monuments, and they concede that these unilateral acts by past presidents “helped preserve some of Utah’s most scenic landscapes.” This is a significant concession, because earlier Utah politicians decried the establishment of these monuments as federal overreach that would bring ruin to southern Utah and its economy. In hindsight we see that these claims were terribly wrong.
Nevertheless, Stratton and Noel complain that recent national monuments have gotten “too big” for their liking and are, in their view, inconsistent with the Antiquities Act. They assert, without support, that these larger monuments “lock up wide swaths of public lands Utahns rely on — disregarding their opinions on how best to manage these areas.”
The elephant in the room is President Barack Obama's establishment of the Bears Ears National Monument, the first and only national monument to be established at the urging of Native American nations, and only after Herculean efforts by federal officials to meet with and listen to stakeholders from all sides, including local and state elected officials. Stratton and Noel curiously leave off their list of legislative accomplishments a resolution introduced by Noel and signed by Gov. Gary Herbert that calls on President Donald Trump to rescind the Bears Ears monument, an unprecedented act in the 110-year history of the Antiquities Act.
At bottom, Stratton, Noel and their colleagues in the Legislature and in Utah’s congressional delegation perpetuate a false and revisionist history in which Utah’s federal public lands were always intended to be “ours,” to be disposed of or managed as Utahns see fit and without federal interference. This is flatly incorrect, as the federal courts have made clear for well over a century. America’s federal public lands were never Utah’s alone, but instead are a part of our nation’s collective bounty. It is long past time to set aside this tale and work toward a common goal of strengthening the management and protection of this place we call home.
Steve Bloch is the legal director and an attorney for the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, Utah’s oldest and largest non-profit conservation organization.