The goal: Increase herds of deer, bison and elk, expand outdoor recreationists’ access to public lands and commit to keep Utah a public lands state.
The legislation: HCR 1.
Some may be rubbing their eyes in disbelief — like environmental groups and outdoor retailers who have condemned the state as “anti-parks,” “anti-monuments” and “anti-public lands” — when they realize that these goals are being pushed forward by HCR 1 and those advocating for more local control of our public lands.
Their “anti” opinions on Utah are either uninformed or an attempt to push elitist and narrow-minded public land management.
Our state has a strong record of protecting the health and accessibility of our public lands. Utah created the nation’s first Office of Outdoor Recreation, passed the Utah Wilderness Act to protect pristine landscapes and approved the largest active watershed and wildlife habitat restoration program in the United States. The list goes on and on.
Yet history seems lost on those pushing caustic rhetoric and false narratives. So we will point out three bills currently moving through the Legislature that demonstrate Utah’s position as pro-parks, pro-monuments and pro-public lands:
Utah is pro-parks
Utah loves its national and state parks. Our state parks are incredibly popular, receiving almost five times more visits per acre than Western national parks. This popularity is largely due to the type and quality of recreational opportunities they provide. In fact, they are so popular that the Legislature is looking to create the Hole-in-the-Rock and Little Sahara state parks — bringing the total number of state-managed parks to 45.
What Utah doesn’t love is the inability of federal land management agencies to develop and manage the state’s unique areas due to a lack of resources. We don’t accept government shutdowns that close national parks and jeopardize the state’s rural economies. We raise concerns over the National Park Service’s nearly $12 billion maintenance backlog that threatens the very resources this federal agency was created to protect.
Utah is pro-monuments
Monument designations have helped preserve some of Utah’s most scenic landscapes, including Zion, Bryce Canyon and Arches. But decades’ worth of presidential exploitation, political gamesmanship and collusion have transformed monument designations into something unrecognizable and damaging to Utah’s rural communities. National monuments have grown exponentially since the Antiquities Act was passed in 1906. That year, monument designations averaged 15,573 acres. Last year, the average national monument designation was 739,305 acres — more than 47 times larger than those monuments designated a century ago. Such expansive monuments lock up wide swaths of public lands Utahns rely on — disregarding their opinions on how to best manage these areas.
Last week, the House Natural Resources, Agriculture and Environment Committee heard the State Monuments Act. This bill provides a mechanism for Utah to create monuments from state lands by requiring the Division of Parks and Recreation to regularly evaluate property for monument status. Like national monuments, state monuments will aim to protect historic landmarks, cultural sites and archaeological resources. Unlike national monuments, however, state designations will not be unilateral decisions that lock up huge chucks of our state while ignoring local needs and voices. Utah is pro-monument when principled restraints on power are part of the process and locals are heard and respected.
Utah is pro-public lands
Public lands are an integral part of who we are and our way of life here in Utah. No one has a more vested interest than Utahns in protecting our public lands. It’s for this reason that the state is looking to transfer 31 million acres from federally controlled land to the state’s care. Last year, the Legislature implemented a plan for transferred lands by passing the Utah Land Management Act — ensuring that wildlife development, wilderness conservation and outdoor recreation will all be part of a multiple-use management model.
This year, the Legislature is looking to strengthen these provisions and heighten protections that keep public lands in public hands. HB407 amends the Utah Land Management Act by, among other things, requiring a vote of two-thirds of the Legislature for any sale of public land, stating that it is preferable to exchange rather than sell public lands, and asserts that the state should acquire private lands to match sold acreage. These amendments provide more protections against the disposal of public lands than current federal law.
Utah has a long and storied history of principled land management policies. The Legislature is not changing its tune this session. It will continue to push forward conservation and outdoor recreation. We know that local control and conservation are not mutually exclusive and that state-based environmental and recreation efforts can produce sensible land management solutions that benefit all Utahns.
Rep. Keven Stratton represents District 48 and Rep. Mike Noel represents District 73 in the Utah Legislature. Matthew Anderson is a policy analyst for the Coalition for Self-Government in the West, a project of Sutherland Institute.