Utah’s public lands attract residents and visitors from all over the world to explore our state’s many wonders and enjoy a variety of recreational activities. For newcomers, these landscapes may have been an important factor in their decision to move here. For the rest of us who value the outdoors, it’s probably why we’ve never thought of leaving. For most of us, access to public lands and waters is non-negotiable.
I serve on the board of the Utah chapter of Backcountry Hunters & Anglers, which advocates for public access to public lands and takes seriously threats in Western states to sell these lands or cripple vital programs like the Land and Water Conservation Fund. BHA’s mission is to “ensure North America’s outdoor heritage of hunting and fishing in a natural setting through education and work on behalf of wild public lands and waters.” As such, the Utah chapter of BHA applauds the recent passage by Congress of the Great American Outdoors Act by Congress, which ensures full and dedicated funding for the LWCF and establishes the National Parks and Public Land Legacy Restoration Fund to support deferred maintenance projects on federal lands. We are disappointed that only one member of our congressional delegation supported the bill. The refusal of these politicians to support our public lands is both troubling and confusing; they argue that states would better manage these lands even as they attempt to hamstring federal land management agencies.
In fact, state agencies would not meet existing management standards. Here in Utah, a review of the Utah Transfer of Public Lands Act of 2012 and the subsequent establishment of the Constitutional Defense Council would indicate that the standards established for the Bureau of Land Management and the Forest Service for multiple use and sustained yield of renewable resources, resource inventories and assessments, and land use planning processes would not be guaranteed. These land management obligations are specified in the Federal Land Management and Policy Act of 1976 for the BLM and the National Forest Management Act of 1976 for the Forest Service. If transferred to state ownership, it is unknown whether our public lands would be sold to private interests, but there would be considerable pressure from development interests to do so. At least now, these pressures are held at bay by a Congress that oversees their management.
Utah residents on both sides of this issue value our public lands. The BLM and the Forest Service are charged with the task of managing them for all Americans. The frustration coming from those whose livelihoods are directly affected by agency decisions is understandable. Also frustrating is the amount of time that’s required for those decisions to take effect, given the protracted legal battles that often accompany controversial issues. The system isn’t perfect, but it’s not broken either. For hunters, anglers and other outdoor recreation enthusiasts, it ensures access to public lands for us and future generations. Proponents seeking a change in ownership can’t make the same claim. BHA members are asking the hard questions of our elected officials and communicating to them the value Utahns place on our shared lands and waters. We urge you to take a moment to reach out to our congressional delegation and do the same. Public lands and waters form a key part of our outdoor traditions, economic security and cultural identity. We need to stand up together and fight for them.