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Feds must give Utah public lands

Published February 16, 2013 1:01 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This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated.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.

At various and sundry times following the original union of the 13 former colonies, territories of the United States of America have applied for and obtained statehood. Vermont was the 14th and Hawaii was the 50th. These, and every state in between, made certain covenants, commitments and promises as a condition of statehood.

In return, the Union made commitments and promises as well. Unfortunately, Utah, after more than 100 years of statehood, waits with other Western states for the federal government to make good on one of the most fundamental of these promises.

Yet, despite the obligation to do otherwise, the federal government defiantly maintains control over 97 percent of Utah's lands. The original intent was that these lands would be disposed of, so that the revenue generated from these lands could be used to fund education and other public purposes. Certainly, the tone and tenor of this op-ed might be different if other states, particularly those east of the Mississippi, were encountering the same dilemma.

However, Eastern states have, for many decades, generally enjoyed access to and use of state lands. As early as 1829, in fact, Louisiana pressed the federal government to release these lands. Other states such as Illinois, Indiana and Missouri were likewise successful in wresting control of these lands from the federal government.

However, here in Utah and much of the West, the stories are much different. National forests go unmanaged and have become tinder boxes and fodder for potential terrorism. Meanwhile, trillions in untapped natural resources, which could otherwise be used to fuel our economy, fund our schools and provide critical community services, sit below the foot of the federal government.

How tragic that Washington appears determined to go over the "fiscal cliff" and take the states with them when we have the resources locked up in federally controlled lands that could be unleashed to create jobs, provide quality education and secure economic self-reliance and energy independence for the states and the nation as a whole.

Other states have been successful in acquiring control over their lands because their citizens made their collective will known and encouraged their local and state policymakers to confront the federal government on this issue. I believe it is time for us to do the same.

Utah has kept its promises to the federal government. Now it is time for the federal government to keep its promise to Utah and restore control of our lands.

Richard L. Davis is city manager for West Jordan. He holds a master's degree in public administration and is a credentialed manager with the International City/County Managers Association, and a member of the Utah City Management Association.