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October 24, 2014

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Western officials discuss taking land from feds

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STEVE MARCUS

Cattle graze by the Virgin River near Bunkerville on Tuesday, April 15, 2014.

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Officials from nine Western states say it's time they take control of federal lands within their borders.

The lawmakers and county commissioners met at Utah's Capitol on Friday to discuss their joint goal of wresting oil-, timber- and mineral-rich lands away from the feds.

The Legislative Summit on the Transfer of Public Lands, as it was called, was not publicized until midday, when the Utah House sent out notice of a 4:30 p.m. news conference.

The result of the meeting wasn't clear. But at the news conference, Utah House Speaker Becky Lockhart said it was in the works before this month's standoff between Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy and the Bureau of Land Management.

The BLM rounded up hundreds of Bundy's cattle, saying he hasn't paid more than $1 million in grazing fees he owes for trespassing on federal lands since the 1990s. But Bundy does not recognize federal authority on the land, which his family has used since the 1870s.

The BLM released the cattle after a showdown last weekend with angry armed protesters.

"What's happened in Nevada is really just a symptom of a much larger problem," Lockhart said, according to The Salt Lake Tribune.

Montana state Sen. Jennifer Fielder said federal land management is hamstrung by bad policies, politicized science and severe federal budget cuts.

"Those of us who live in the rural areas know how to take care of lands," said Fielder, a Republican who lives in the northwestern Montana town of Thompson Falls. "We have to start managing these lands. It's the right thing to do for our people, for our environment, for our economy and for our freedoms."

Idaho, New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada, Wyoming, Oregon and Washington also were represented, but none of the other states has gone as far as Utah, where lawmakers passed a measure demanding that the federal government extinguish title to federal lands.

The lawmakers and Gov. Gary Herber have said they're only asking the federal government to make good on promises made in the 1894 Enabling Act for Utah to become a state. The intent was never to take over national parks and wilderness created by an act of Congress, said Lockhart, a Republican from Provo.

"We are not interested in having control of every acre," she said. "There are lands that are off the table that rightly have been designated by the federal government."

The University of Utah is conducting a study called for by the legislation to analyze how Utah could manage the land now in federal control.

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