In an unprecedented move, Utah is preparing to seize 31.2 million acres of federal land located within its borders before the end of 2014.
In 2012, Utah Governor Gary Herbert signed the Transfer of Public Lands Act into law, demanding that the federal government relinquish its strangle-hold on land ownership in the state, The Washington Times reported. Currently, the federal government owns more than half of the 54.3 million acres of land in Utah.
Federal land grabs have left many Western states with far less land for private business, ranching, and other agricultural activities, which in turn lessens the state tax base. Utah is now bucking the powers that be and is attempting to turn the tables on the federal government.
The transfer deadline is Dec. 31.
“That’s what you do any time you’re negotiating with a partner. You set a date,” State Rep. Ken Ivory told The Times. “Unfortunately, our federal partner has decided they don’t want to negotiate in good faith. So we’ll move forward with the four-step plan that the governor laid out.”
Utah could start a chain reaction and prompt a reversal of the federal government land ownership dominance in the West. The federal government controls 57.5 percent of Utah land.
Although the federal government has yet to give any real response to the law, Ivory remains undeterred in his quest to put the ownership of Utah lands back in the hands of Utah residents, ranchers, and business owners.
“We’re going to move forward and use all of the resources at our disposal,” he said.
In November a financial review of the takeover of public lands in the state reported that such a venture would be fiscally feasible. The 784-page document stated that Utah was financially capable of managing the massive tracts of land currently under the control of the Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management.
“I expect that public discussion will be well served by this report,” Herbert said. “It shows the complexities and connections between Utah’s robust economy and the great quality of life Utahans enjoy.”
Fiscal analysts at three universities took 18 months to develop the feasibility of enacting the law. The researchers found that the state would have to spend $280 million to maintain and manage the land currently owned by the federal government, but the revenue generated from the ownership of the lands would reportedly be $331.7 million, The Times reported. The revenue would be garnered primarily from oil and gas royalties and mineral resources development.
The New York Times compiled a breakdown of the percentage of land in 12 Western States under federal control:
- Nevada 84.5 percent
- Alaska 69.1 percent
- Utah 57.5 percent
- Oregon 53.1 percent
- Idaho 50.2 percent
- Arizona 48.1 percent
- California 45.3 percent
- Wyoming 42.3 percent
- New Mexico 41.8 percent
- Colorado 36.6 percent
- Washington State 30.3 percent
- Montana 29.9 percent
- Hawaii 19.4 percent
According to the study, 20 of the 29 counties in Utah have more than 45 percent of the land owned by the federal government.
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