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Onetime Lands Czar Blasts Lands-Transfer Efforts

 A former top lands leader says America’s latest Sagebrush Rebellion is a danger to the nation's public-lands heritage. Former Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt, speaking at the Outdoor Retailers trade show in Salt Lake City Thursday, urged the industry to fight back.

His Utah critics hanged Babbitt in effigy years ago over creating the Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument. Now he’s urging public lands advocates to use the outdoor industry’s clout to lobby for expanding federal lands.

“This is the moment to come together, stand tall, raise your voice, put your industry into the fight,” he says. “It’ll make a real difference.”

Babbitt pointed to the state’s 800-page economic report on transferring federal lands to Utah and noted it devotes only one, cryptic paragraph to the value of wilderness. He cautions against dismissing this new Sagebrush Rebellion, saying it’s a threat to the very existence of the nation’s outdoor recreation industry.

“This is different this time,” he says. “It’s a right-wing national movement being funded and fostered by the oil and gas and coal companies.”

Ken Ivory is the Republican state lawmaker behind Utah’s lands-transfer effort and the national movement.

“I don’t know how much more hyperbolic you can get in one statement,” counters Ivory, who contends states would do better managing natural resources, wildlands and wildlife. “He’s clearly absolutely wrong and hasn’t bothered to look into the situation.

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During Babbitt’s tenure in Washington, the Clinton administration created 20 national monuments. Babbitt joked Thursday about the outrage in Utah over the creation of the first of those monuments, the Grand Staircase. At the time, it was so unpopular it was announced in Arizona.

Babbitt insisted in his speech Thursday that the people of Utah have come to support it even if politicians have not. He also described the Grand Staircase experience as an important and enduring lesson in federal lands governance. The "lesson learned" remark is at 1:28:

Former Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt on the importance of public input.

Judy Fahys has reported in Utah for two decades, covering politics, government and business before taking on environmental issues. She loves covering Utah, where petroleum-pipeline spills, the nation’s radioactive legacy and other types of pollution provide endless fodder for stories. Previously, she worked for the Salt Lake Tribune in Utah, and reported on the nation’s capital for States News Service and the Scripps League newspaper chain. She is a longtime member of the Society of Environmental Journalists and Investigative Reporters and Editors. She also spent an academic year as a research fellow in the Knight Science Journalism program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In her spare time, she enjoys being out in the environment, especially hiking, gardening and watercolor painting.
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