Utah Demands Feds Surrender Lands by Dec. 31
Posted: December 20, 2014
With the federal government engaged in a de facto
unconstitutional occupation of some two thirds of Utah's territory, citizens of the
state and their elected representatives have had just about enough. So, on
December 31, the State of Utah is formally demanding that Washington, D.C., relinquish
control over more than 30 million acres of valuable land currently controlled by
various federal bureaucracies.
While apparatchiks for an all-powerful U.S. government and far-left activists
are fuming over the plan, Utah lawmakers, citizens, and experts say the time has
come for the state to manage - and profit from - its own resources.
Constitutionally speaking, experts say the lands should have gone to state control
generations ago, as the federal government promised when Utah became a state.
The escalating battle now brewing between the feds and Utah formally got underway
in in 2012, when Republican Gov. Gary Herbert, riding a wave of public outrage over
federal abuses and land grabs, signed the popular Transfer of Public Lands Act.
Among other elements, the law calls on the federal government to hand over control of
public lands purportedly owned by the U.S. government within Utah's borders.
The law also commissioned a study, released this month, examining various aspects
of the process and finances - including how Utah would manage the land it is calling
on the federal government to relinquish. According to the study, contrary to the
hysterical claims of pseudo-environmentalists and federal supremacists demanding ever
greater federal land grabs, transferring the lands to Utah would likely be "profitable"
for the state.
Indeed, if Utah controlled its own lands - as opposed to bureaucrats and politicians
in faraway Washington, D.C., who siphon away much of the state's wealth and mismanage
the resources - the state could easily bring in enough revenue to cover the costs of
managing the lands, and then some. According to the researchers, the vast swaths
of federally owned land represent an overall "drag" on the state's economy - especially
in the 20 out of 29 counties where the feds purport to own more than 40 percent of the
The 780-page study, "
An Analysis of a Transfer of Federal Lands to the State of Utah,"
was performed by economists from three leading Utah universities. It concluded that
properly managing the lands by Utah authorities would cost the state government about $250
million annually by 2017. Revenues from those same lands in 2013 were already more
than $330 million, with most of that coming from oil and gas royalties.
Depending on oil prices and other factors, a best-case-scenario would see the state's
coffers bulging with over $1 billion in additional revenue annually by 2035. By 2017,
with a slight increase in drilling, the state could be earning nearly $400 million per year
- more than enough to offset the costs of taking over fire suppression and other management
duties from the federal government.
"In conclusion, from a strictly financial perspective, it is likely the state of Utah
could take ownership of the lands and cover the costs to manage them," found the study,
which was celebrated by Utahans but blasted by Big Green lobbyists given a megaphone by
the establishment press. "Our research also suggests that it could put a strain on
the state's funding priorities in the early years as the state adjusts to the loss of
federal dollars, evaluates land resources and conditions, and develops programs to replace
those now managed by federal agencies."
While the potential economic benefits to the people of Utah are clear, many of the
officials leading the charge are also concerned about broader issues. As the
Western territories were officially becoming states, like in the East, the federal
government agreed to eventually transfer those lands to state control. However,
as with so many other promises made by the D.C.-based political class, so far, the
pledges have not been fulfilled. The 2012 Utah law specifically cited those
agreements from when the state joined the Union.
Perhaps the most important issue at play in the whole land issue,
though, is the U.S. Constitution. Lawmakers involved in the effort point to, among other key
points, Article 1, Section 8 of the U.S. Constitution, which outlines what types of
property the federal government is authorized to own. The Federalist Papers,
too, make clear that the Founding Fathers never meant to have the federal government
serve as landlord over half of the Western states, and in some cases, as much as 85
percent of the territory within states such as Nevada.
Despite the 2012 law requiring the feds to get out by December 31 of this year,
the controversial federal bureaucracies unconstitutionally occupying and (mis)managing
the vast territories - primarily the U.S. Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest
Service - have refused to cooperate so far, according to news reports. For the state
lawmakers and officials behind the effort to restore state sovereignty over the land,
however, that is simply not an option.
"We're going to move forward and use all the resources at our disposal," explained
Utah Rep. Ken Ivory, who sponsored the 2012 law and also leads the American Lands Council,
a group seeking to strip the feds of their gargantuan land holdings across the Western
United States. Among other possibilities, state leaders are exploring a plan to hire
a private law firm to lead the charge in court if Washington, D.C., refuses to surrender
the lands by the deadline set in the law.
The first step in the process is to see whether the federal government will voluntarily
comply with the Constitution and Utah's law mandating that it be upheld. "That's what
you do any time you're negotiating with a partner. You set a date," explained Rep.
Ivory. "Unfortunately, our federal partner has decided they don't want to negotiate
in good faith. So we'll move forward with the four-step plan that the governor laid
While the governor who signed the 2012 law has not been quite as enthusiastic as state
lawmakers, he welcomed the report and vowed to continue considering the state's options.
"I expect that public discussion will be well-served by this report," Republican Gov. Gary
Herbert said in a statement about the study. "It is important to make decisions based
upon a thorough review of accurate, relevant information." He also said his office and the
legislature would "continue to review" the study and "pose questions for further consideration
of the legislature."
As The New American reported
earlier this year, Utah and its citizens are hardly alone in seeking to wrest control over
the lands and the vast wealth currently claimed by the feds. In April, lawmakers and
elected officials from nine Western states even met at the Utah Capitol for the Legislative
Summit on the Transfer for Public Lands. "Legislators from across the West are saying
enough is enough," Washington State Rep. Matt Shea told The New American after the
summit. "We are banding together to fight federal overreach wherever it rears its ugly
head, not just talk about it."
"The federal government cannot possibly know how best to manage land in the thousands of
different locales like the people of those areas could," the popular Republican lawmaker
explained, echoing the sentiments of countless other policymakers and activists who say the
federal government needs to be stripped of its vast, unconstitutional land holdings.
"Clearly, the people of Western states would do a better job managing those lands."
Already, the federal government alone purports to "own" about a third of the land in
the United States - and with ongoing land grabs across the country under various pretexts,
those numbers continue to mushroom. "The enabling acts of the Western States make it
clear the federal government was meant to be a steward only until such time that the states
could manage," Rep. Shea explained. State and local governments also have vast land holdings.
Eventually, some advocates of reducing the gargantuan federal footprint across the
Western states hope some of the land can be sold off and become private property rather
than being owned by government. Getting the feds to relinquish control to state
governments, though, would at least represent a good starting point.
Reprinted by permision. Alex Newman is a correspondent for The New American,
covering economics, education, politics, and more. Follow him on Twitter