Sen. Mike Lee has proposed yet another scheme to sell off public lands in the state of Utah.
Faced with an underfunded public school system, Lee argues that tracts of public land in the Beehive State could be auctioned off in order to bolster funding for public education.
Sportsmen and women and communities across our state place a high value in our public lands, including those that aren’t national parks, designated wilderness areas or national monuments. Although they might not boast the tens of millions of tourists seen by Zion or Bryce Canyon, the acres targeted by Lee are where we hunt, fish, run dogs and camp with our families. They have sustained communities for generations and provide critical public access for citizens from across the country.
These lands also provide essential habitat and winter range for the threatened sage grouse as well as elk, deer and antelope — species upon which Utah’s sportsmen and women depend.
These lands are also integral to our outdoor recreation economy, which at last count topped $12.3 billion in Utah alone. They’re a sustainable source of revenue for counties and municipalities across the state.
In 2018, the Payment in Lieu of Taxes program, or PILT, which compensates counties with federal lands that don’t provide property taxes, raised $40.7 million for Utah counties supporting essential services including education, law enforcement, wildfire management and health care.
Lee’s plan is tantamount to selling the cow to buy milk. It’s a short-term gain that will ultimately devastate rural economies that depend on hunting, fishing and outdoor recreation as sustainable sources of revenue year after year.
Federal lands are also managed for multiple uses that generate additional revenues from resource extraction, grazing and more sustainable leasing programs that support farmers and ranchers. If our public lands are sold to the highest bidder, there’s no guarantee that wealthy landowners and private industry will continue to support working ranch families, and if they do, market prices for grazing privileges on private lands are often 10 times more than the bargain rate federal agencies charge per animal unit month.
Lee chose to frame his argument around Utah’s children. Yes, our public school system needs help. But other funding sources exist that will not lead to the privatization of our state’s incredible natural resources. The next generation of Utahans will depend on our public lands the same way I have: as a source of food, income and endless opportunities in the outdoors.
We can’t let our kids be used as a pawn in Sen. Lee’s long-running campaign to divest Utah of our public lands.
Please stand with me and the Utah Chapter of Backcountry Hunters & Anglers in asking Sen. Lee to focus on real solutions to fund education, leave our public lands alone and let our outdoor economy continue to thrive.
Perry Hall is vice chair of the Utah Chapter of Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, a 501c(3) nonprofit dedicated to protecting public lands for all users. He spends any free time he has hunting, fishing, mountain biking and skiing on public lands.