Washington • The head of the Bureau of Land Management said Tuesday that it’s divisive and unproductive for Utah lawmakers to push legislation that attempts to force the federal government to hand over public lands in the state.
“It’s sad that they’re spending so much time debating something that has absolutely no chance of ever happening in the real world,” Bob Abbey told The Salt Lake Tribune after a congressional hearing Tuesday.
“There are a lot of things that we have in common, and we ought to be focusing our attention on those common goals because we have an opportunity to do some pretty fantastic things in the state of Utah working together.”
Utah lawmakers are debating a series of bills that would, taken together, demand that Congress transfer all federal lands within the state — about 60 percent of Utah is federally owned — to Utah authorities. The measures also authorize money to sue the federal government if it doesn’t comply.
Lawmakers pushing the proposals argue that a deal with the federal government when Utah became a state allowed for the lands to pass into local hands but the government has refused to relinquish control. State attorneys have noted that the effort is likely to be found unconstitutional.
Asked about the bills, Abbey said it was “divisive” to focus on whether the lands should be managed by the federal government or state officials.
“The time could be spent on how best to manage these lands regardless of ownership,” Abbey said.
On the other side, Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, said Tuesday that he supports the Legislature’s efforts to stake claim to the public lands.
The federal government has blocked oil and gas exploration, development, mining and grazing on much of those public lands, a point Bishop says costs Utahns potential revenues.
“I want them to do as many avenues of approach as possible,” Bishop said. “All I want is one arrow to get over the wall and hit something so we can finally win on this issue.”
Gov. Gary Herbert also has expressed support for the legislation.