When it comes to defending their state against federal land grabs, Utah's congressional delegation talks a good game. But they're really wimps.
Sure, Reps. Rob Bishop and Jason Chaffetz, joined by Sens. Orrin Hatch and Mike Lee, have introduced the Utah Lands Sovereignty Act that would prevent new national monument designations in the Beehive State unless approved by Congress.
But that legislation only deals with future nefarious land grabs by presidents trying to exercise their dictatorial authority under the 1906 Antiquities Act. What about all those earlier land grabs, the ones by Teddy Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, Warren Harding, Herbert Hoover, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Lyndon Johnson and Bill Clinton? They run the gamut from small monuments (Natural Bridges, Hovenweep, Rainbow Bridge, Mukuntuweap, Timpanogos Cave) to big monuments (Grand Staircase-Escalante in Hatch's words the "mother of all land grabs") to big monuments that evolved into some of the nation's premier national parks (Zion, Arches, Bryce Canyon, Capitol Reef).
If Utah is going to assert its sovereignty over federal lands within its borders, isn't it time to think big? Why not undo them all?
Heck, Utah can run those parks, probably better than the feds. Surely the psychic satisfaction of sticking it to Uncle Sam would be worth the expense of managing millions of acres of federal parks and monuments. The ones currently run by the National Park Service only cost about $24 million a year to operate. Utah taxpayers are famous for their generosity, and they'd gladly shoulder that expense.
Another option would be to take charge of all those properties and return them to their pre-land-grab condition. It's not like they add that much to Utah other than a lot of traffic and swarms of German and Scandinavian tourists who don't speak English all that well.
The numbers show how pathetic is the economic impact of the monuments and parks in Utah managed by the National Park Service: Total number of jobs, 7,056; number of visitors, 6.6 million; visitor spending, $407.1 million. That's per year.
Just think what those numbers might look like if we let the thumper trucks loose in Bryce and Zion to find some good old American oil and gas.
So, Orrin, Mike, Rob and Jason, it's time to man up and really unleash your inner sovereigns. Who knows? It might just get you some votes next election. Or, all sarcasm aside, you might want to think about what being a public servant really means, and consider some facts:
Protected public lands almost always stand the test of time and prove their value.
Lands under federal management don't belong to the people of the state in which they're located; they belong to all of us, in equal measure.
And those who engage in mindless rhetoric generally look foolish in hindsight. Like Utah's Sen. Wallace Bennett, who called President Lyndon Johnson's expansions of Arches and Capitol Reef national parks a "last gasp attempt to embalm a little more land in the West."
Tom Kenworthy is a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress and a board member of the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance. He lives in Golden, Colo.