This land is my land…

Who better to manage Utah (and the west’s land) that the Bureau of Land Management (BLM)?

There is a reason as to why the BLM is in place. It is to protect the heritage of our country from the worst of those among us. There are those who have proven they can’t even pretend to be mature adults and respect important heritage sites. This goes farther than Cliven Bundy and his issues.

Formed in 1946, the BLM was the culmination of several different offices and agencies within the executive with the specific goal of managing the nation’s lands. Emphasis was put into place to manage mining and mineral land use. More than that, since Reagan’s presidency, the Republican Party has focused on local control (giving preference to petroleum and coal production) while the Democratic Party has emphasized conservation and protection.

Recently, the BLM has been under fire for having “para-military” law enforcement officers, especially from Utah Congressman Chris Stewart (R-UT 02). He has been vocal in making the call that the BLM should disband their law enforcement groups (who are trained at FLETC) and should defer to local law enforcement.

Take Cliven Bundy, who has lost multiple court cases and has been issued millions of dollars in fines as a result.

Even though he had no legal title to it, he still thought the land belonged to him. The BLM came into the situation not knowing what they were going to ultimately deal with.

Would it be a Waco, Texas-like situation?

Would it be people who were reasonable, and would sit down to talk?

Would the local law enforcement enforce the valid and legal order(s) that the BLM had from previous courts?

Why should they have to put their lives on the line when they don’t know if the local law enforcement would enforce the orders – what if they were sympathetic to the plight of the Bundy family?

What if they were anti-BLM?

Protesters at a Recent Anti BLM Rally in Southern Utah
Protesters at a Recent Anti BLM Rally in Southern Utah

The fact is that the states that have demanded control back from the federal government  have given away their title to the land. They have no standing to demand the land come back. In fact, any argument from the state to the contrary goes against the enabling act;

“Second: That the people inhabiting said proposed State to agree and declare that they forever disclaim all right and title to the unappropriated public lands laying within the boundaries thereof; and to all lands within said limited owned or held by any Indian or Indian Tribes; and that until title thereto shall have been extinguished by the United States, the same shall be and remain subject to the disposition of the United States.”

Kokopelli petroglyph located on BLM land near Embudo, New Mexico
Kokopelli petroglyph located on BLM land near Embudo, New Mexico

I am sure we could agree there are some lands that could be disposed of by the federal government.

But as we saw this weekend at Recapture Canyon and Recapture Reservoir the anti BLM/federal government types don’t care to have an adult discussion on the topic. They are angry that they can’t take their ATV’s anywhere they want. Forget the fact that Recapture Canyon has significant cultural heritage and is a Native American burial ground. It is a well known fact that ATV’s damage the sensitive environment in Southern Utah where archeological sites are, so because the ATV types couldn’t be adults and respect the land and its cultural significance.

The BLM had no choice but to make it off limits to motorized vehicles.

We have also seen what happens when the state gets lands back, or has an emergency: they call in on the federal government for help. This was shown a few years ago when Saratoga Springs had a pretty severe wildfire. They called in the Feds quickly to help with their inability to put out the fire themselves.

I am not against some lands being returned to the States. I am also not naive enough to believe that PILT is a successful program to support the Western States.

But I get worried when groups like the Idaho and Utah legislatures start saber rattling about “taking back” their lands.

These lands are everyone’s lands. The states have not shown that they can better manage them or that they have the resources.

This last week I was in Washington, D.C. and spent time with Congressmen Stewart and Bishop and discussed this issue with them. Both of them seemed to make it sound like that if we (the state) had control of our lands, that there would be some magical kind of monetary windfall. Like overnight these lands would be sold and taxes paid. When in reality it will take years before these lands begin to make money for the state. The reality is some of these lands are not suitable for development or inhabitable for business.

During this fight, the state of Utah has ignored one thing: of the western states, Utah have the lowest severance (or extraction) tax rate for the removal of non-renewable resources.

In Texas the severance tax rate is 7.5%, Colorado 5%; Michigan 5%; Arkansas 5%; Wyoming, 6%; Montana 9%; Alabama 8%; Kansas 8%; Oklahoma between 4% and 7%. Utah? Comes in at around 3 to 5%.

Wouldn’t it be a much easier solution to raise the severance tax rates for the producers to pay in to since it has been shown that higher severance taxes do not result in less drilling or exploration?

We know that Utah has a huge amount of oil and coal. In fact, Congressman Bishop said “two Saudi Arabias worth of oil.”

Wouldn’t it be wise to get some benefit that is tangible, as opposed to having a useless fight that the State won’t win? Or a fight for Lands that the State has no ability to manage?

I would submit that it would be better to work on extracting value as opposed to pipe dreams of having land that we aren’t able to manage effectively that does not bring us any real benefit for several years.

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