- Utah’s state legislature and governor have gone the furthest of any of the Western states when it comes to turning public lands over to the state. In 2012, the legislature passed and Governor Gary Herbert signed HB 148, which demanded that the federal government turn public lands over to the states by 2015 or it would sue. HB 122 was passed in 2013, which authorized a study and economic analysis of the transfer of public lands that could cost Utah taxpayers $450,000.
- The legislature took even more steps in the 2014 legislative session. It passed HB 164, which authorized an “Interstate Compact on State Transfer of Public Lands” to coordinated political and legal challenges across states. The legislature also passed HB 151, which created a “Commission for the Stewardship of Public Lands.”
- The self-imposed deadline for Utah to sue the federal government over public lands came and passed in December 2014.
- In 2016, the Utah legislature passed HB 287, which established a dedicated funding stream for what is expected to be a $14 million lawsuit against the Department of the Interior to seize control of national public lands. On the final day of the 2016 legislative session, Utah lawmakers approved HCR 16, urging the state to pursue litigation. However, Representative Mike Noel, a co-sponsor of HB 287, expressed his doubts, saying, “Long-term, I think we’re going to have problems, I really do, in being able to advance this lawsuit. … I’m hoping it’ll change, but I just don’t see it happening.”
- Utah’s Enabling Act states “That the people inhabiting said proposed State do agree and declare that they forever disclaim all right and title to the unappropriated public lands lying within the boundaries thereof.”
Here are legal analyses from Utah institutions:
- Utah’s own Office of Legislative Research and General Counsel said that Utah’s legislation had “a high probability of being declared unconstitutional.”
- A January 2015 legal analysis from the University of Utah’s Wallac Stegner Center determined that “If states take over land management, fiscal realities will force more development.” The paper also addresses the potential negative impacts of “transferring” public lands to many users, including ranchers, skiers and snowboarders, and oil and gas drillers.
- An October 2014 legal analysis from the University of Utah’s law school found that “the transfer movement’s legal strategy is not viable.”
Click here for more details about how Utahns feel about efforts to seize their public lands.