Following increasing pressure by sportsmen and others to keep public lands under public ownership, state legislators announce decision to amend suit, which would have cost Utah taxpayers $14 million
SALT LAKE CITY – In the wake of rapidly escalating opposition by sportsmen and other citizens to attempts to sell, transfer or seize the public estate, Utah legislators have backpedaled on a lawsuit that would have claimed ownership of public lands and waters that lie within the state’s borders.
The Utah legislature’s Commission for the Stewardship of Public Lands voted in December to draft a complaint that would contest continued public ownership of public lands and waters, which constitute approximately two thirds of the state. The nature of the suit – and its cost, estimated at $14 million – was roundly criticized by sportsmen groups, including Backcountry Hunters & Anglers.
BHA’s Utah chapter today responded to the announcement by Utah House Resources Committee Keven Stratton, sponsor of House Concurrent Resolution 1, one of several measures being considered by the Utah state legislature that focus on seizing control or ownership of American public lands.
“Western sportsmen and women, Utahans in particular, should breathe a sigh of relief after learning that our legislature has decided to back away from this unpopular and fiscally irresponsible land transfer lawsuit,” said Braxton McCoy, a Utah BHA board member. “However, just as this was not the first attempt to steal our public lands, it surely will not be the last.
“We as outdoorsmen need to recognize that short-sighted politicians have sought to sell off our land since Roosevelt was in office,” continued McCoy, who lives in Holden. “This victory – while important – is just a small battle in an ongoing war.”
The state of Utah continues to find itself the centerpoint of public lands controversies. Earlier this month, following widespread condemnation by hunters, anglers and others, Rep. Jason Chaffetz withdrew legislation from the U.S. House of Representatives that would have mandated the sale of more than 3 million acres of public lands across the country. On social media, Chaffetz, dressed in camo, cited the reaction of groups he supports in driving his decision. A companion bill that would eliminate federal law enforcement officers on U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management lands continues to generate criticism from sportsmen, LEOs and others.
Utah and other Western states have unparalleled fishing and hunting access on public lands. These lands represent a boon for the few political leaders, developers and others who stand to gain handsomely if they are removed from the public trust. BHA remains committed to opposing the sale and transfer of public lands.
“American sportsmen have made our position clear,” said BHA President and CEO Land Tawney. “We absolutely oppose any efforts to sell, steal or otherwise take from us our public lands and waters. President Trump likewise has pledged to keep public lands in public hands. We will hold him to that promise. We won’t relinquish our outdoors heritage without a fight.”