If we’re going to have an honest debate about this issue, proponents need to be far more transparent about the costs to taxpayers and how they intend to pay those costs without increasing taxes or selling off lands to the highest bidder. —Jessica Goad, advocacy director
SALT LAKE CITY — A new poll commissioned by UtahPolicy.com shows the majority of Utah residents favor suing the federal government over ownership of certain lands and also reject the creation of the Greater Canyonlands National Monument.
The poll tapped 406 registered voters, with 54 percent saying they think the state should file a lawsuit to take control of federal lands within the state.
Better than half — or 56 percent — said they are opposed to the creation of the Greater Canyonlands National Monument by the president, and of those, 42 percent were strongly opposed, according to the poll. The results showed that 37 percent were in favor of the monument's creation.
The monument designation for 1.8 million acres in southeastern Utah is being sought by multiple environmental groups and looms as a threat to political conservatives under the Obama administration.
UtahPolicy.com bills itself as a comprehensive source of political and public policy-related news and information, serving the public policy industry.
The organization's poll, conducted Sept. 30-Oct. 2 by Dan Jones & Associates, immediately brought criticism from groups opposed to the state effort on federal lands with complaints that it asked the wrong questions or did not provide enough details.
The Denver-based Center for Western Priorities, which describes itself as a nonpartisan center focused on issues in the American West, said key factors such as the costs that would accompany federal land acquisition, like firefighting, were omitted in the Utah poll.
“Public opinion research shows that once Utah voters are presented with the costs of managing national public lands, they become highly skeptical of such efforts," said Jessica Goad, advocacy director at the center.
"If we’re going to have an honest debate about this issue, proponents need to be far more transparent about the costs to taxpayers and how they intend to pay those costs without increasing taxes or selling off lands to the highest bidder," she said.
Goad said a recent poll conducted for the Center for Western Priorities shows that support quickly declines among Utah residents when they learn the costs associated with land transfers.
As an example, she pointed to poll results that showed 60 percent of Utah residents supported taking control of Bureau of Land Management lands — a number that dropped to 52 percent once those surveyed learned of costs such as firefighting.
Utah's efforts to gain control of certain federal public lands took root in 2012 with the passage of the Transfer of Public Lands Act sponsored by Rep. Ken Ivory, R-West Jordan.
Signed by the governor, the law demands the federal government cede title to certain lands that supporters say were promised to Utah at statehood.
Ivory said the recent poll shows support for the political movement.
"By nearly a 2-to-1 margin, people in the state of Utah believe that they and their locally elected representatives can manage the lands for better access, health and productivity than bureaucracies that are far away, unelected and unaccountable to the people of Utah," he said.
The law gives the federal government, specifically the U.S. Department of Interior, until December to comply with its demands or risk legal action.
While the Utah Attorney General's Office has said it does not think a legal complaint will be drafted by that deadline, Utah is preparing the paperwork to take its fight to court.
"We simply can't take no for an answer," Ivory said.
Since 2012, seven other states have passed or are in varying stages of pursuing similar legislation. The largely Western effort has gained political support from states such as South Carolina, where lawmakers adopted a resolution urging the federal government to relinquish certain lands.