SALT LAKE CITY — Representative from 14 states — including South Carolina — met in Salt Lake City this week and unanimously endorsed a public policy statement that calls on the federal government to turn its lands over to state control.
The statement exempts national parks, congressionally designated wilderness areas, Indian reservations and military installations from transfers and emphasizes that federal public lands will become "state public lands" to be managed in compliance with state and local plans.
More than 80 officials including Montana state Sen. Jennifer Fielder, South Carolina Assemblyman Alan Clemmons and Alaska Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell met for three days this week in Utah in a workshop hosted by the American Lands Council.
The council is led by Rep. Ken Ivory, R-West Jordan, who sponsored the Transfer of Public Lands Act that was passed two years ago in Utah.
Clemmons said federal land ownership may appear to be a Western states issue, but its impacts are felt elsewhere.
"It is no secret that the federal government is managing lands at a loss," he said. "Who pays for being in the red? South Carolinians pay for that red. South Carolina pays for that loss."
The Transfer of Public Lands Act gives the federal government until Dec. 31 to cede title to its lands or risk a lawsuit.
Utah House Speaker Becky Lockhart, R-Provo, said the deadline — which will come and go without the lawsuit being filed — was intended as a goal for the state to work toward and as a negotiating tool.
"Litigation is one of the options," she said. "This movement will gain momentum no matter what happens in a single state."
Despite a charge by the Denver-based Center for Western Priorities that the anti-federal movement may be losing steam, Lockhart and others say it is growing in popularity and collecting supporters as word of its efforts grow.
"There are a dozen Alaskans who came to this meeting because we have a huge problem with federal overreach," Treadwell said. "It's time to bring that land home and that decision making home."
Treadwell cited energy policies that put Alaska at a competitive disadvantage and the government's refusal to allow an 11-mile dirt road through a wildlife refuge that has cost 19 lives because of delays to emergency medical evacuations.
"It's about time we got a new owner," he said.
The Center for Western Priorities said newspaper editorials have come out against the movement, and groups such as the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation are opposed to the sale or transfer of public lands.
Montana state Sen. Jennifer Fielder said there has been confusion over the destiny of the lands once they end up in state control.
"There will not be a boogeyman that will sell off these lands. It will be the people of the states who decide," she said.
Fielder, who said she is a recreation planner by trade married to a wildlife biologist, said states will ultimately be better stewards of the lands because the residents there are intimately more acquainted with them.
"We care more about these lands than the people who don't live here," she said. "It's just not a priority for them."
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