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Is Utah Ignoring the Cost of Fighting Wildfires in Public Lands Debate?

University of Utah Center for Natural and Technological Hazrds

A conservation group says states like Utah that are demanding control over federal public lands are ignoring the costs of managing that land – including the cost of fighting wildfires. 

Utah passed a state law in 2012 demanding the federal government turn over title to its public lands within the state by the end of this year, and authorizing a lawsuit if the feds don’t cooperate.

Greg Zimmerman with the Center for Western Priorities says the U.S. Forest Service alone spent 58-million dollars fighting fires in Utah in 2012.  And he says the battle over who owns the land is pointless.

“It is extremely unlikely for it ever to happen," Zimmerman tells KUER, "but what it’s doing is, it’s distracting from, from the larger issues that we have on our public land.  It’s distracting from a lot of collaborative efforts that have been successful in the states.”

Republican State Representative Ken Ivory sponsored the Utah law demanding control over federal land.  He argues the firefighting costs are high because the federal government has mismanaged public land.  Ivory says increased revenue from timber and other resources would cover the cost of firefighting.

Ivory tells KUER, “States already manage millions of acres of forest land.  For example, Washington state.  They generate 1283 time more revenue per acre than the U.S. Forest Service.  Idaho, for example, generates 917 times more revenue per acre.”

Greg Zimmerman also argues federal management allows the costs to be shared.  He says one bad fire season could put an individual state’s financial stability at risk.

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