Tim Glenn: It’s no surprise that Utah doesn’t get its fair share of public lands money

Utah’s elected officials have shown no support for public lands.

(Rick Bowmer | AP file photo) In this March 3, 2018, file photo, Mitt Romney tours Arches National Park as Arches National Park Superintendent Kate Cannon near Moab, Utah.

Sen. Mitt Romney and the rest of Utah’s federal delegation recently sent a letter to Department of Interior Secretary Deb Haaland requesting an explanation for the amount of funding budgeted for Utah’s public land as part of the Great American Outdoors Act.

Despite Utah’s vast percentage of public land, extremely popular national parks, and significant backlog of maintenance projects, it seems Utah has not been afforded their fair share of funding. Kudos to Romney for the public inquiry.

I just can’t help but wonder what type of priority the state would have been given if Utah politicians hadn’t been working to dismantle the very idea of federal public lands in the state for the past 30 years. Surely, more than three decades of “take back our lands” rhetoric from local politicians has had an impact beyond just winning elections, right? Last time I checked, those lands are all still public. So maybe the impacts are on the “unintentional” side of things. Maybe Utah is getting less federal resources because its federal delegation has been arguing to do just that for 30 years.

To be clear, the recent letter is exactly how a congressional delegation for a state with the second highest percentage of public lands should act. They should advocate for funding within the body they were elected to. They should cry foul when our state is shorted its fair share of money. As elected officials, they should use their power to improve the resources their state has within its boundaries.

But instead, for decades, they’ve been working to tear down the very system that is meant to benefit those who actually live here.

Sen. Mike Lee and Rep. Chris Stewart’s rare form of arrogance has been on display in this arena — particularly in relation to this bill. For years they have been front and center in the “take back our lands” fantasy. Last year, each of them actively worked to stop the Great American Outdoors Act from being passed — making their public statements in opposition and circulating petitions to stop the passage of the bill. Lee even went so far as to publicly call on then-President Trump to veto the bill after its passage. Romney, for his part, also voted against the bill.

But maybe if they had actually spent their time trying to improve the law by — and I’m just spitballing here — guaranteeing a certain percentage of funding based on the amount of public land a state has, then Utah wouldn’t have been left short.

When it comes to public lands issues, Utah’s federal and state representatives spend the vast majority of their time trying to disempower their constituents and defund protection of the lands we all enjoy. It should be no surprise when it actually happens.

In the letter to Haaland, the delegation rightly argues that “Utah’s contributions to the federal government and outdoor recreation must more seriously be considered in the future.”

That is an absolutely true statement. Perhaps the senators and representatives should look into a mirror and read it out loud a couple of times before they go into work each morning.

Tim Glenn

Tim Glenn is a museum professional and public lands advocate living in Salt Lake City.