The U.S. government is Utah’s biggest landowner, and it is derelict in maintaining its properties.
That is why it is especially galling that the Biden Interior Department is stiffing Utah in the first appropriations from the Great American Outdoors Act.
Last year, the then-Republican-led U.S. Congress did something unexpected. It came up with a plan to fund repairs and preserve federal properties across the country. The first year’s money will be $1.6 billion.
Utahns were naturally enthused. Our state has more than 5% of the 640 million acres of federal land in the country, and we have well documented maintenance needs, including national parks, national forests and Bureau of Land management lands. We have decaying roads, bridges, campground bathrooms and water and sewer systems. All told, the backlog is estimated at $225 million.
So how much of the $1.6 billion did Utah get from the Great American Outdoors Act: $7.3 million. That’s less than half a percent. And none of it will go to Utah’s five national parks, which welcome millions of Americans every year.
It is an indefensible amount of money, and it shows incredible disrespect for Utah at a time when the Interior Department is expected to flex its muscles and restore the state’s national monuments over the objections of Governor Spencer Cox.
The need is undeniable and growing, especially in the pandemic era. Nowhere is that more apparent than at Bears Ears. Tribune reporter Zak Podmore detailed the ongoing destruction. Tourists are tromping through 1,000-year-old archeological sites without even knowing it.
The slight is even less justified when you consider how the Great American Outdoors Act is funded: through oil and gas revenues generated on public lands. For Utah, that is $81.5 million per year. We’re not even getting back 10% of what we’re sending.
As Utah’s congressional delegation pointed out in its letter to Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, Virginia, which has a tiny fraction of the federal land that Utah has, is getting $247 million, enough to cover its entire maintenance backlog. Wyoming, which has 6% of federal lands to Utah’s 5%, will receive about $184 million. That’s 25 times Utah’s total.
If and when President Biden goes through with his promise to restore Bears Ears and Grand Staircase Escalante monuments back to their original size, there will be outcry. If the president backs up the decision with adequate funding, it would do much to deflate the argument that Washington bureaucrats are absentee landlords.
Utah throws out the welcome mat for fellow Americans. But if Washington won’t pay for upkeep, it’s Utahns who are getting stepped on.
Utahns should write to Secretary Haaland and tell her to go back and come up with a fair distribution. Go to https://www.doi.gov/contact-us, and include a link to this editorial.