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Public lands legislation puts federal control in cross hairs

Published March 15, 2013 7:42 am

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

The anti-federal theme that characterized much of the 2013 session reached far into the natural resources arena. The Legislature passed several bills and resolutions affirming state and local "sovereignty" over public lands, forests, water rights, endangered species and law enforcement.

Rep. Mike Noel's HB155, aka "the sheriff's bill," would bar employees of federal-land management agencies from acting in a law-enforcement capacity except in emergency situations. The Kanab Republican also sponsored HB382 designating a "grazing zone" over Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. It overwhelmingly passed, while a Senate resolution calling for protecting Greater Canyonlands was referred to interim study.

Rep. Ken Ivory, R-West Jordan, claimed the U.S. Forest Service is twisting ranchers' arms to get them to sign over their water rights. His HB166 and a companion resolution affirm ranchers' right of access to public lands to develop their water rights.

Other popular measures took aim at the Endangered Species Act, which one lawmaker condemned as "a federal tool that hurts us." The Legislature reauthorized a $300,000 appropriation to keep wolves out of Utah. SCR3 asks the feds to hand Utah prairie dog management to Iron County and HCR7, insists no private land be designated as critical habitat for the Gunnison sage grouse.

The Legislature also passed HB164, which would allow county authorities to "mitigate" national forests they deem a threat to public safety. Thursday evening the House concurred with a Senate amendment on the bill.

Brian Maffly