Uncle Sam, let’s make a deal. Utah will take over the management of the majority of the lands within its state boundaries. You can keep control over the national jewels. You can also keep the PILT payments and the SRS funds you send to the state each year to minimally compensate for lost taxes and the lack of access and development. You can even keep the millions of dollars you spend each year to manage lands within Utah.
In turn, we promise we will unleash Utah’s experience as the best-managed state in the nation to responsibly and efficiently manage the public lands within our borders. We also promise to keep our lands open to visitors and tourists. We will continue to value and protect our state treasures and natural cathedrals. We’d be absolute fools not to.
This deal will allow Utah to maintain vibrant healthy landscapes and to use best management practices to enhance or restore areas which have suffered greatly under the process-heavy federal bureaucracy. States in the West have long demonstrated that best management practices lead to healthy, vibrant landscapes at a fraction of the cost, by using resources on-the-ground, rather than in endless studies and useless litigation as required by federal regulation.
This effort is not hostile to conservation. In fact, the deal we are proposing recognizes, at a minimum, that Utah’s unique treasures such as Arches, Bryce Canyon, Canyonlands, Capitol Reef, and Zion (as well as the other units managed by the National Park Service) should remain protected. It also guarantees protections for the existing 33 congressionally designated wilderness areas. I have little doubt that Utahns will quickly identify additional areas that merit protection and will add to this list.
Utahns are not blind to the state’s remarkable natural beauty – it’s a big reason most of us are proud to call it home. We don’t need to be reminded that Utah’s public lands are a treasure. I know Utahns. We will not be unwise stewards. The lands we all love and treasure won’t be any less public when they are managed by the state.
Let’s be honest: People don’t flock to Utah because the lands are federally managed. They flock to Utah because Utah lands are unique, precious, and visually - even spiritually - stunning. Utahns are smart enough to recognize this. Would we really build a McDonalds in Arches or destroy Natural Rock Bridge?
Federal ownership and good management are not synonymous. National parks have at least an $11 billion maintenance backlog. The U.S. Forest Service has its own $3-5 billion backlog. Millions of acres of national forests are at risk to catastrophic wildfire, and the majority of our federal grazing lands are in less than fair condition. The federal government won’t be able to find funding to dig itself out of its backlog hole.
We don’t need the feds to hold our hand any longer. We can take the training wheels off the bike. Utah is not an adolescent. Utah is not a colony. Utah is not a territory. Utah is a state.
C’mon, Uncle Sam. Let’s make a deal.