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Capitol Pledge to Rural Utah: We've Got Your Back

U.S. Bureau of Land Management
The federal government's wild horse management is just one of the complaints rural Utah has against the federal government. Many local leaders want state leaders to sue the federal government for control of public lands.

State leaders and a congressman pledged on Friday to keep fighting Washington on behalf of rural Utah.

The governor and lieutenant governor both served on county commissions early in their careers. So it was no surprise on “Rural Legislative Day” at the State Capitol that they promised to back up local leaders on issues like boosting jobs and education. And, like them, Utah Congressman Rob Bishop said he’ll keep taking rural Utah’s side against what they call federal overreach.

Sevier County Commissioner Gordon Topham is dismayed about Washington’s new constraints on fossil fuels, so he’s happy about the momentum behind the lands-transfer lawsuit everybody’s talking about in the Capitol.

“Really I see that’s just about the only option we have now is to do that,” he says. “I wouldn’t care who owned the land as long as we had some reasonable management of it so we can use those resources.”

Gov. Gary Herbert and lawmakers are questioning the estimated $14 million cost of a suit. But economies outside Utah’s cities still haven’t rebounded all the way, and many rural leaders see greater local control as the best solution.

Millard County Commissioner Jim Withers, a dairy farmer, says its time to give locals a crack at the problems federal agencies are fumbling -- like the wild horse herds in his county.

“It’s getting to the point where those native plants and part of our desert will be basically destroyed because of a lack of management of those horses,” he says. “There’s just too many horses there.”

Rural leaders also talked about building an educated workforce, updated infrastructure and other state incentives for attracting new industries. 

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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