Public Lands: Who Should Manage Them?

Last night I went to an Oxford style debate Utah_border_sign on the statement “The state of Utah is best suited to manage public lands within its borders.”

The question asked whether management should be by Utah or the Federal Government. On one side were Speaker of the House Becky Lockhart and Representative Ken Ivory for Utah controlling those lands and on the other side, former Bureau of Land Management Director Pat Shea and University of Utah professor Dan McCool. A big crowd of close to three hundred people showed up.

The evening began with a poll of attendees with a 60/40 split against the statement, meaning that 60% favored federal management of public lands, no surprise in given the downtown Salt Lake City location for the debate. By the end of the debate, the split was 54/46 or a 6% swing towards Utah being best suited to manage those lands.

Here goes a cliff notes version of the debate:

Ken Ivory led off with a history of the federal versus state government management of lands. He pointed out that under the same enabling language in the Utah constitution many of the states in the east and midwest were given back their land.

Pat Shea began by conceding that some state lands should be state controlled, but wants Utah to follow prescribed federal process to make it happen.

Lockhart surprised with story of her father being a forest ranger for almost four decades and how he first hand saw the federal mistreatment of our lands. She brought up bark beetle and uncontrolled burns as examples.

McCool addressed myths and set the record straight focusing mostly on Utah’s enabling act.  The Shea/McCool side then looked at all of the legislation that Congress passed to protect these lands. Now, there are so many stakeholders that it is not feasible to give the lands back, and oh, by the way the feds have never promised to give them back to Utah.

Au contraire, said Lockhart/Ivory. Read the entire Utah enabling act, not just the first part and you will find an acknowledgement that the lands will be returned to Utah

Shea/McCool acknowledged federal mismanagement, but said that  only if there were higher taxes and more funding it would be better. By the way, if the feds and Utah could just sit down together they could Rodney King “Can’t we just get along”.

Lockhart agreed that National Parks and National Monuments are off limits, while Ivory brought up issues around the state where feds have done stupid things.  Lockhart hammered on the issue of local accountability versus federal bureaucrats 2,000 miles away with no accountability.

And the winner was: with movement of six percentage points in their favor over the course of the evening, Lockhart and Ivory.

We need more political dialogue like this. More debate and less of the loudest voice wins.


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