Resolution of some aggravating differences between Utah and the federal government about land management has cooled the state's enthusiasm for a mass land swap with the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, Gov. Norm Bangerter said Friday at a congressional hearing.
Rep. Bruce Vento, D-Minn., chairman of the House parks and public land subcommittee, presided over the field hearing in Utah's State Capitol about a bill introduced by Rep. Wayne Owens, D-Utah, that is intended to facilitate consolidation of state and federal land holdings.Utah's 4 million acres of state property are scattered in a checkerboard fashion throughout the state. Utah's property, 7 percent of the land area, was granted to the state to help financially support public schools.
In his opening statement, Owens said the land is so scattered that it cannot be managed or developed to any great extent, and it now provides less than 1 percent of the public education budget.
Bangerter said that when he took office in 1985, he discussed the large- scale land trade - called Project BOLD - with local officials and interested Utahns. The trade was the brainchild of former Democratic Gov. Scott M. Matheson and former Interior Secretary James Watt.
Bangerter said he found no support for such a massive exchange. "More recent discussions have not revealed any change in public support for such a wholesale exchange," he said.
"I have, however, found widespread support for selective federal-state land exchanges here in Utah.
"Based upon these discussions and other factors I will present, I support selective land exchanges. I believe careful, selective land exchanges will prove to be more workable and will better serve both the state of Utah and the federal government."
Project BOLD was born in a different environment, he said. Carter administration policies led to the Sagebrush Rebellion, under which states attempted to seize federal land.
Utah was frustrated on many land issues, he said. Among them was the setting aside of part of the Alton coal field as unsuitable for surface mining. Bangerter said that action meant 12,000 acres of state coal land could not be developed.
Since then, Utah has received almost all of the 223,000 acres of indemnity land to which it was entitled, he said. Many of the frustrations that vexed the state and its citizens have been resolved or are being resolved.
Bangerter added, however, that "conflicts in southern Utah, which contains most of the National Park System lands, Indian reservations, many BLM wilderness study areas and much of Utah's energy and mineral resource potential areas, are real."
Vento told the packed committee room, "This is an important bill and an important policy." He said measures to streamline land exchanges will likely be passed soon. The bill "deserves the serious consideration of the U.S. Congress."
Owens quoted Sen. Jake Garn, R-Utah, from the days when the senator supported Project BOLD. Garn called the trade an excellent concept whose time has come.
"I introduced this legislation and asked chairman Vento for this hearing today because Sen. Garn's statement was true and is truer today. We are late in trying to resolve this vital issue."
Rep. Jim Hansen, R-Utah, who, like Owens, is a subcommittee member, said that he was a co-sponsor of the old Project BOLD bill. In those days, "the Sagebrush Rebellion was on. There was a need to tie down these loose ends."
He said that since then, exchanges have taken place. The concept of a land trade is an interesting one, but, "I'm not quite sure this (bill) is the tool."
Hansen quipped of bills, "They never come out the way they go in." He said he believes the measure can be refined to the advantage of all concerned.
Calvin Black, San Juan County Commission chairman, said, "There is little support for this bill in the state of Utah. I know of no county commissioner in the entire state that supports it."
Scattered state sections have a leverage value in keeping federal land open for economic production, he said.
Ruth Frear, Salt Lake City, a national director of the Sierra Club, said there are good reasons to consolidate land, but the group is concerned about a proposed 50-50 split in mineral revenues between the state and federal governments.
She said the state has a poor rec-ord in managing its resources and cited the recent trade of a state section of land within Capitol Reef National Park to Garfield County.
"County officials have publicly stated that their primary intent is to hold the section hostage in an effort to compel Congress to authorize (an) expenditure" to pave the Burr Trail. She suggested land trades be attempted on "a considerable smaller scale."
George Nickas, assistant coordinator of Utah Wilderness Association, supported the bill but said the group has problems with it as written. There should be more accountability to the public, he said.