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Professors: Working Together A Better Solution To Lands Fight

A new analysissays Utah decision makers have smart alternatives to lawsuits for ending the frustration over federal land management.

University of Utah law professor John Ruple and colleague Bob Keiter contend that working together is a better way for Utah politicians to settle their quarrels over federal lands. In their fourth white paper on the volatile lands-transfer fight, they suggest it’s the best approach to the complex issue for ranchers and miners as well as recreationists.

“There are a lot of pieces and parts that are moving here,” says Ruple, “and the frustration on, I think, all sides is really sincere and heartfelt.”

The report, called “Alternatives to the Transfer of Public Lands Act,” says practical issues like funding for land management personnel and coordination between state and federal agencies would help. So would the sort of grassroots problem solving that’s going on in other Western states between ranchers, nonprofits and government agencies. Ruple says failing to find smarter approaches could mean more conflict, like the armed occupation at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon last month that left one rancher dead.

“People are upset, and I don’t think anyone wants to see that kind of scenario play out in Utah,” he says. “So, it’s in everybody’s best interest to find a path forward that recognizes those common interests.”

At Utah’s State Capitol, politicians are considering a $14 million lawsuit to try to end federal control of over 30 million acres in the state.

But Ruple and Keiter say in past reports that that legal challenge probably will fail. They’ve invited members of Congress, the governor and legislative leaders to discuss their findings, but no one’s accepted so far.

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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