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Sen. Mitt Romney: Rural lands package reflects Utah priorities

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Utah is, and will always be, a public lands state. As such, we must look for more public lands solutions that come from the bottom up and not the top down.

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WASHINGTON — Utah’s public lands are as unique as they are breathtaking. Red rock canyons, endless swaths of sagebrush, alpine meadows, sprawling salt flats and towering mountain peaks make our state an extraordinary place to live and visit. Such diverse and spectacular landscapes deserve to be managed through locally driven solutions that protect the environment, secure Utah’s rural economies and provide abundant recreational opportunities.

No one knows or loves these places more than the ranchers, teachers, police officers and others who call rural Utah home. Their history, culture and future depend on access to and the quality of Utah’s public lands. For too long, however, presidents of both political parties have designated national monuments with the simple stroke of a pen — leaving out the voices of those most directly impacted by their creation. Instead of being done hand in hand with locals, drawing on their love and knowledge of the land, presidents have opted for quick and heavy-handed action. This flies in the face of the democratic process and, as is the case with most unilateral decisions, stifles innovation, neglects critical pieces of information and produces incomplete and often misguided public policy.

It is for these reasons that I am proud to co-sponsor the Natural Resources Management Act and the Protect Utah’s Rural Economy Act, or PURE Act, as my first policy actions in the Senate.

The Natural Resources Management Act is a comprehensive, bipartisan public lands package that comprises over 100 individual bills — including 10 locally driven pieces of legislation that directly impact our state. With the leadership of Rep. John Curtis and collaboration between county commissioners, environmental groups, ranchers, recreationists and a host of others, these bills were carefully crafted to meet the needs of Utahns while protecting our cherished lands.

Some of the highlights include the creation of 240,000 acres of wilderness and 248,000 acres of recreation areas, and the consolidation of more than 100,000 acres of Utah trust lands that will generate $100 million in revenue for our school kids. The bill also authorizes the creation of Jurassic National Monument in Emery County, small land transfers to Nephi and Hyde Park to meet their city government’s growing needs and the designation of Golden Spike site as a historical park for the 150th anniversary of the “wedding of the rails.”

Like the Natural Resources Management Act, the PURE Act — a bill long-championed by Sen. Mike Lee — was inspired by the needs and desires of rural Utahns.

Historic and cultural sites deserve our admiration, respect and protection. No one debates this. But process matters, and national monuments should be established with congressional input and with the involvement of our legislature — where local voices can be heard, transparency reigns, and sensible policy is produced. This is the vision and path paved by the PURE Act.

Utah is, and will always be, a public lands state. As such, we must look for more public lands solutions that come from the bottom up and not the top down. Integrating local voices into the management of our public lands and conserving the environment are not mutually exclusive. We can conserve wildlife, protect historic sites, maintain access and preserve Utah’s public lands in a way that reflects the priorities of rural Utahns. This is the future our public lands need and deserve.