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Lands Fight Shifts From Legal To Political Arena For Now

Corona Arch on BLM Lands in Utah.

State lawmakers are pausing legal efforts to gain control of federal lands in Utah. They’re pushing for a political solution instead.

Legislators have already committed more than $5 million dollars to suing the federal government for control of tens of millions of acres within state boundaries – everything except national parks and wilderness areas. But that litigation would be put on hold with Representative Keven Stratton’s non-binding resolution while supporters of Utah’s lands-transfer see if they can make inroads with the Trump administration.

“This is a call to all hands on deck,” Rep. Keven Stratton, R-Orem, told the House Natural Resources, Agriculature and Environment Committee on Friday.

Stratton says Washington seems more open lately to the idea that the state is best-equipped to ensure the land’s good health. He’s changed the title of House Concurrent Resolution 1 from “Public Lands Litigation.” The name replaces those words with “to Secure the Perpetual Health and Vitality of Utah’s Public Lands and its status as a Premier Public Lands State.”

Stratton said after Friday’s hearing that people have always misinterpreted the true intent behind the lands-transfer idea.

“The narrative has been that the state of Utah wants to have the lands returned to their control so they would be sold to the highest bidder,” he said. “That is fear-based and inaccurate.”

HCR1 passed out of committee, 9-1, with the backing of the conservative Sutherland Institute. It heads next to the House floor, but Democrats are already criticizing this and other Republican lands bills as “colonialism” for trying to dictate policies on lands beyond the state’s jurisdiction.

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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