SALT LAKE CITY — Interior Secretary Sally Jewell's first official foray into Utah as overseer of the nation's public lands brings her to a state where the issue of federal land management has reached a contentious, fervent pitch.
Jewell, a keynote speaker at the Western Governors Association's annual meeting Friday, will highlight the value of public lands, underscoring the economic contributions derived from outdoor recreation, travel and tourism, and energy development.
Last month, Jewell met with Utah Gov. Gary Herbert in Washington, where he also testified before the House Natural Resources subcommittee that management of fire-threatened forests and threatened species are tasks best left to the states.
Such hands-off sentiment — particularly over public lands issues — has been a dominating theme in Utah politics the last several years.
The sentiment is at the heart of multiple issues, from control of more than 12,000 disputed roads to the demand from Herbert and the Utah Legislature that the federal government relinquish ownership to most of the land it controls in the state, or face a lawsuit.
Complaints of mismanagement of forests by the U.S. Forest Service or micro-management of threatened or endangered species by the Interior Department are pressing issues among the Western states and are likely to crop up in discussions during the governors' meeting.
"When you have a new secretary in a position like that, you always want to have hope that the policies might be different," said Rep. Ken Ivory, R-West Jordan.
Ivory, president of the American Lands Council and the architect of Utah's Public Lands Transfer Act, will be attending the meeting, listening for any indication that the Interior Department might behave differently with Jewell at the helm.
"While I think the governors would be rightfully hopeful, the track record of the federal government is not good. The track record for increasing control over increased access to public lands under both Republican and Democratic administrations has been pretty abysmal," he said.
For his part, Ivory said he was hopeful that Utah's efforts to have the federal government cede title to the lands it owns in the state — with the exception of national parks, national monuments and designated wilderness areas — would make it on the agenda.
"We are hoping there would be discussion that five states have now passed transfer of public lands legislation that Utah has led out on," Ivory said, "but it didn't make it on the agenda."
Ivory said Wyoming, Idaho, Montana and Nevada have all followed Utah's suit, and South Carolina's legislature passed a resolution supporting the transfer of public lands to Western states.
"We think other states will support the effort," Ivory said.
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