State land managers say Utah pulls in around $70 million in cash a year from leases and royalties on state and federal lands. Some say it's not enough.
The money comes from oil, gas and mineral royalties, rentals, cattle grazing, timber and brine shrimp harvesting. The figure includes only cash payments and not the overall economic impact of the lands and their resources.The least productive activity is grazing, which accounts for just $650,000. And timber, another traditionally Western activity conducted on public lands, accounts for only about $1.4 million.
"Leasing land for special uses like communication towers is less bothersome and more profitable than grazing cattle," said Utah Trust Lands Administration spokesman Dave Hebertson.
That's not a popular sentiment in rural Utah, say Hebertson and Bureau of Land Management spokesman Glenn Foreman.
Foreman said cattlemen in Utah pay $1.26 per month for one cow and calf to graze on BLM lands. In many areas of the state, however, one cow may need 20 acres or more to sustain it, he said.
Hebertson said that might be a bit conservative.
"The cow might starve in some areas before finding enough food to eat," he said.
"To be fair, however, it should be noted that some of the trust lands that are grazed would not bring in any money at all to the state if it were not for the cattle," Hebertson said. The trust lands, he said, charge $2 per cow and calf per month.
As for the profit from small timber, it's actually an improvement over earlier years when timber harvesting in the state cost the Forest Service more to manage than it earned.
It also should be noted that Utah is not a major timber state, said Forest Service spokesman Bob Swinford.
"Oil and gas profits, by far, drive the money train on public lands," Foreman said.
The actual return to Utah from its public lands in 1997 was approximately $83.2 million, but that included a one-time $11 million infusion from previous underpayments.
Trust lands revenue, which is earmarked for Utah's public education institutions, earned $35 million in 1997, but Hebertson said $20 million annually is a more realistic figure.
Foreman said the approximate $44 million BLM paid to Utah from oil, gas, coal, mineral and grazing revenue earned in the state in 1997 is pretty typical. The federal agency owns 42 percent of all Utah lands and gives the state about half of any revenues collected from them.
The Forest Service returned only about $1.3 million to the state in 1997.
Department of Natural Resources Director Kathleen Clarke said she is less concerned about the amount of revenue the state gets from the federal agencies than she is about the lack of control Utah has over the lands within its borders.
Decisions involving such issues as grazing and wilderness, or water and wetlands, affect the livelihoods of rural citizens, Clarke said.
Hebertson believes the state could also make more money off the lands by managing them itself.
"There are reliable studies out there that prove states can more effectively manage their own lands than the federal government can from Washington, D.C.," he said.
State officials, however, admit they may not be getting top dollar for some of the resources they now manage, particularly the resources extracted from the Great Salt Lake.
The lake is managed by the Department of Natural Resources, which is presently trying to increase its revenues.
Art Dufault, spokesman for the Division of Forestry, Fire and State Lands, says efforts to increase the 1955 royalty fee for salt from 10 cents a ton to 50 cents a ton is being fought by Morton Salt.
The company, which extracts 500,000 tons of salt from the lake annually, is suing to keep the 1950s fee intact.
Dufault said the state only earned $177,000 in royalties from the five companies extracting salt from the lake in 1997.
Earnings from magnesium and potassium sulfate extractions during the same period brought in $1.66 million.
Division of Wildlife spokesman Clay Perschon said brine shrimpers pay $10,000 per boat. About 79 permits are issued annually.