Utah's political leaders are sometimes accused of mounting an assault against Utah's public lands. This is just cheap political messaging. Utah always has been, and likely will always be a public lands state. Our significant ongoing concern is about the misuse of national executive authority to make decisions that hurt families and communities in Utah.
When former-President Obama declared the Bears Ears National Monument, he ignored the voices of the people of San Juan County and every elected official chosen to represent the Bears Ears area. It is these local residents who are most affected by this monument designation, those who have been faithful stewards of their sacred land for generations. They rely on the land for inspiration and for sustenance. They don't need a new federal employee to tell them what to do. We stand with these hard-working rural Utahns whose voices were silenced by the stroke of one man's pen, who never set foot on the place he locked away.
Utah recognizes the value of our land and we have shown our commitment by word and deed. When the federal government shut the gates to public lands in 2013, we led the nation in the fight to keep our national parks open. Gov. Gary Herbert united with local officials and the state Legislature to step in and keep the parks open. At a price tag of nearly $2 million, we paid federal government employees to keep the national parks open. In addition to providing for recreation, we are also aware of our miners, ranchers and other industries and recognize the value in raising strong families and keeping food on the table. When there are conflicts, Utahns will provide better solutions than executives thousands of miles away who only see part of the picture.
The 2013 government shutdown provides a sober warning against the centralization of power and money in Washington, D.C. When the federal government dropped the ball, it was Utah's leadership that picked it up. We may be tempted to applaud when we agree with the latest sweeping unilateral decisions made by a president, but we must remember that there will not always be a president with whom we agree. If you live by a declaration, you can die by a declaration. The people of the United States will find safety in decentralization and personal engagement in local self-governance.
Former Utahn Wallace Stegner called the national park system "America's best idea." He was wrong. America's best and most important idea is the decentralization of political power, enshrined in the Constitution. The idea is that many kinds of people can unite, educate and govern themselves in small republics — where local communities reap both the benefits and consequences of local decisions. Without that, our national parks would not be what they are now, nor would we have the freedom or financial ability to enjoy them.
Utahns love and support our public lands. We have demonstrated our commitment to them in many ways, including the nation's first office of outdoor recreation, our office of tourism and investing in the success of our parks even when the federal government failed.
We believe the people closest to the land should make the decisions regarding its use. Nobody has or will continue to fight harder to make Utah the greatest place on earth to live, work and play then the people of Utah.
Ralph Okerlund is the Utah Senate majority leader.