The fight over federal control of public lands shifted from the West’s deserts to an urban library Wednesday in a law-school style debate that took place in downtown Salt Lake City.
Arguing for state control of federal lands were Utah House Speaker Becky Lockhart and State Representative Ken Ivory.
Former Bureau of Land Management Director Pat Shea and University of Utah Professor Dan McCool to made the case that the federal government is the better manager for six hundred million acres.
Some people wore yellow notes saying they wanted public lands to stay public. Others wore cowboy hats.
“I thought there were some good points made about input from people of the country,” said Emery County commissioner J.R. Nelson. “I mean it’s not just strictly about the land. It’s about the people who are running it.”
Nelson says he showed up at the debate favoring state control, and he left with the same view. But he welcomed the opportunity to talk about the issue in a mostly civil forum.
The lands-control dialog has been intensifying in recent weeks as the world watched an armed standoff between supporters of a Nevada rancher and BLM rangers. Last weekend San Juan County Commissioner Phil Lyman led an ATV protest through a closed BLM canyon, and he was in the library audience Wednesday.
“The public lands in Utah and the American West and the entire United States are of critical importance to us all,” said Murray resident Jason Hardy. “And I’m excited to see some civic conversation about it.”
Hardy favors federal government control over federal lands, and he didn’t change his mind either.
The crowd filled the library auditorium. That audience and people listening in or viewing online voted by cell phone. The final tally of more than 336 votes had 54 percent supporting federal control, 43 percent backing state control.
The debate was organized by The Salt Lake Tribune, KCPW and the Hinckley Institute of Politics.