Outdoor enthusiasts who use federal lands should be very afraid of the Utah Legislature's attempts to use eminent domain to gain control over those properties.
Forget for a minute that these legislative proposals are blatantly unconstitutional, violate the Enabling Act that allowed Utah to join the United States and will waste millions of dollars in legal fights.
Ignore the fact that legislators can't even properly fund Utah's tiny state park system and have asked the Department of Natural Resources to identify six parks for possible privatization. That action alone shows our legislators have no interest in providing the public with quality outdoor recreation.
If you mountain bike, hunt, fish, raft, boat, ride an ATV or snowmobile, hike, camp, photograph, four-wheel drive or enjoy any other type of outdoor pursuit, you are screwed if Utah takes over these federal lands.
Why recreation and hunting groups such as the Utah Shared Access Alliance or Sportsmen for Fish and Wildlife would align themselves with the legislature's greedy federal land grabbers is a major mystery. Don't these motorized recreation enthusiasts and hunters realize that if Utah takes over management of federal lands, their access is going to be severely limited if not eliminated and that the land will not be well managed?
Consider the differences between management mandates of the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management and the Utah School and Institutional Trust Lands Administration (SITLA).
The federal agencies manage under a multiple-use philosophy that tries to balance the needs of all users -- be they miners, oil and gas producers, ranchers, wilderness lovers or motorized recreation enthusiasts. There are times when difficult choices favoring one group over another must be made. If the system works correctly, the long-term health of the land is protected.
SITLA, on the other hand, is mandated to generate as much revenue as possible for the state school fund. If that means selling land to private interests, so be it. The agency does not provide any public recreation facilities such as campgrounds or trailheads. It doesn't have to worry about federal environmental laws designed to protect the long-term health of the land. And if it can make more money by leasing lands to strip miners at the expense of outdoor recreation users, it will.
The interests pushing these bills have no desire to provide public outdoor recreation. Many view public parks and campgrounds as services the government should not provide. These legislators don't want to spend the money to properly manage these lands for long-term benefits. They hope to make as much money out of them as possible, the quicker the better, future generations be damned. If that means selling them, so be it. If it results in strip mining some of the world's most beautiful scenery for short-term gain, that's tough. If it means ruining Utah's multi-million tourism industry, what's the problem?
I get it that motorized recreation users hate wilderness. I recognize that rural county governments don't like some of the feds' management decisions. Federal land management agencies certainly aren't perfect. And there is no doubt that disputes over road ownership and wildlife policies are real.
It is far better, though, to work with Congress, federal land managers and, in extreme cases such as road disputes, the courts to solve problems under the current system.
In the highly unlikely chance that Utah might actually win the right to take over federal lands in court, those of us who enjoy outdoor recreation on the state's thousands of acres of scenic lands are screwed. We will only have ourselves to blame because we voted for these angry, short-sighted leaders who don't understand the Utah or U.S. Constitutions and are willing to gamble our tax money while tilting at windmills.