Educators, parents and students spoke out against Governor Herbert’s land grab in Utah today, united by a concern for Utah’s children and public lands. Rejecting the claim that state control of federal lands could benefit education, speakers urged the Governor to “safeguard – not to seize – Utah’s public lands.”
The event was hosted by “For Kids and Lands,” a group of educators and other citizens who support stewardship of Utah’s federal public lands and realistic solutions for funding education.
A crowd of more than 50 citizens – including parents and grandparents with young children, as well as high school and college students – flanked the speakers. They held aloft photos of families hiking on Utah’s public lands and signs with messages such as “Spend money on schools not on lawsuits” and “Don’t spoil my future, protect public lands.”
The group is delivering a position statement to the Governor endorsed by over 60 community leaders and currently signed by more than 1200 citizens. The statement challenges Herbert’s efforts to assert state ownership over Utah’s federally-owned public lands and the roads and routes that crisscross them.
“When litigation and increased management costs are added together, the state is likely to lose rather than generate money,” said Heather Bennett, vice-president of the Salt Lake City School District Board of Education and a mother of three children who attended Utah’s public schools. “Besides, I believe we set a poor example for our children and dishonor the values of our ancestors when we arrogantly seek to seize and exploit.”
James Thompson, a fifth generation Utahn and public high school teacher for 31 years, said that the Governor’s land grab “will destroy the landscapes that inspire, educate and renew us.” Utah’s public lands “would be thrown open to extraction activities or sold off to the highest bidder in an effort to maximize short-term revenues,” he noted. “Moreover, they would become marred and scarred for generations to come as the state seeks to develop a virtual spider-web or road rights-of-way.”
“The Governor is out-of-step with young people in Utah like me,” noted Ethan Lake, a public high school student who who grew up hiking and camping with his family on Utah’s public lands. “We want to see these places safeguarded, not exploited.”
Heidi Chamorro, a law student who attended public schools in Utah all her life, noted that, “Utah’s unspoiled public lands are the main reason why young people remain in our state and why businesses choose to locate here. If we allow the state to seize control and destroy the beauty that is in our backyard then we will lose what makes Utah such a unique and special place.”
For Kids and Lands urges citizens who share their concerns to add their name to the position statement at www.forkidsandlands.org and contact them at firstname.lastname@example.org for info about how to support their campaign.
When ideology collides with reality, reality wins.
Last Monday, a federal judge blocked implementation of a new Utah law that would have prohibited BLM and Forest Service employees from enforcing state laws anywhere in Utah.
The Salt Lake Tribune reports:
In a filing Monday, the Justice Department said that Congress has the authority to make laws governing federal lands and that the Utah Legislature does not have the power to overturn or supersede those laws and rules.
The federal regulations governing the officers and land have been written to incorporate state laws and local ordinances.
After a conference call with attorneys for the state and federal governments, Judge David Nuffer signed a temporary restraining order blocking the law from taking effect until a June hearing on a longer-term injunction.
Ultimately, the Justice Department is asking the judge to strike down the law as unconstitutional.
This is the first instance where Utah’s loony tunes campaign to take over federal land ran up a against a federal court. And Utah lost.
Also losing, however, is the Utah taxpayer, who is footing the bill for the state’s attorneys to return to court in June to argue against a permanent injunction — not to mention the 30 lawsuits against the feds that Utah taxpayers are paying for so the state can gain control over so-called RS2477 routes, many of which are little more than old cattle trails and dry stream beds.
As the Salt Lake Tribune declared in an editorial on Saturday:
If the law is eventually nullified, it won’t matter to the quixotic [State Representative Mike] Noel. He seems to enjoy spending Utah taxpayers’ money in court. In fact, he relishes any kind of standoff with federal government agencies and employees almost as much as he likes to thumb his nose at groups trying to protect the natural resources that bring many millions of tourist dollars to the Beehive State every year.
Noel… believes in the outdated philosophy that wide-open spaces are there to be used up and discarded for short-term gain and temporary jobs. He fails to see the writing on the wall: The future mainstays of the Western economy will not be ranching, mining and extractive industries….
Arguing in the Legislature for laws that do nothing but antagonize federal officers and cost tax money to defend in court is not responsible governance. It’s a provincial, last-gasp attempt to control lands that belong to all Americans, not only the Utahns who live near them.
Poking the U.S. Constitution in the eye by ignoring the Supremacy Clause, which elevates federal law above state and local laws, may be fun for Noel, but Utahns should see it for what it is: a waste of time and money that should be spent on solving Utah’s real problems.
The Tribune gets it right. The radical nature of the state’s campaign to “take back” federal lands in Utah will eventually collapse — but not before a ton of taxpayer money is wasted.
The Moab Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has approved a mining company’s proposal to drill four exploratory potash* wells on Hatch Point. K2O Utah LLC, owned by a large Australian mining company, has little concern for the harmful effects its drilling and development activities have on the outstanding scenery of the Greater Canyonlands area; it is interested in making a profit. Period. Yet, the tens of thousands of visitors that flock to the Hatch Point and Needles Overlook area annually are not doing so to view drill rigs, sludge pits, tanker trucks and industrial equipment.
BLM’s decision puts the cart before the horse.
The BLM has acknowledged that its current management plan failed to correctly identify areas where oil, gas and potash development should occur. As a result, the Moab BLM is currently conducting an evaluation of public lands near Moab (known as the Master Leasing Plan process) to correct this defect. As part of the Master Leasing Plan, the BLM is considering new management constraints for various areas, such as closing the Hatch Point area to leasing. The BLM’s draft Master Leasing Plan is scheduled for release later this summer.
The BLM’s resolve to rush headlong into a decision to allow potash drilling on Hatch Point illustrates the immediate need for a higher level of protection for the lands in Greater Canyonlands.
*Potash is the common name for mined compounds of potassium in water-soluble form. It is used primarily as one of the main ingredients in common varieties of fertilizer.
Actress/director Daryl Hannah and rock legend Neil Young were in Moab last Friday and showed their support for protecting Greater Canyonlands!