An Unbalanced, Lose-Lose Proposition

We wrote on Wednesday about attempts by the Herbert administration to “soft sell” their radical, two front war on federal public lands. And sure enough, as if on cue, Lt. Governor Greg Bell appears today with an opinion piece at Utah Policy Daily that tries to paint Gov. Herbert’s radical agenda as a “balanced, win-win approach”:

We believe the effort launched earlier this year in Utah represents a balanced approach. Our approach is based on the conviction that development and environmental stewardship are synergistic and not mutually exclusive. Governor Herbert signed HB148, the Public Lands Transfer Act, in an earnest and timely effort to generate cooperative, constructive dialogue with the federal government about gaining more say in how Utah’s public lands are managed.

Utah’s public lands effort is based on a commitment to facilitating a balanced, federal-state win-win situation. Despite the media myths to the contrary, there is no multi-million-dollar lawsuit to take over all federal lands in Utah. Rather, Utah is investing the time, resources and effort required by the scope of such a Legislative decision surrounding State control of public lands within its borders.

Lt. Gov. Bell writes that “there is no multi-million-dollar lawsuit to take over all federal lands in Utah.” The fact is, the state of Utah, at Governor Herbert’s direction, filed 22 lawsuits this spring against the United States Government seeking to gain control of tens of thousands of RS2477 claims, including those in National Parks, National Monuments, and Wilderness Study Areas. If a court were to accept Utah’s argument that these R.S. 2477 claims –many of which are no more than cow paths, old seismic lines, dry stream beds, ORV tracks and hiking trails – are actually “highways” under this antiquated law, it would nullify or diminish longstanding protection for national parks, wilderness areas and other scenic landscapes, and seriously disrupt the ability of professional land managers to manage federal lands in Utah.

And the cost of these lawsuits? Surely they will be in the “multi-millions” of dollars, as San Juan County and the state of Utah have already spent more than a million dollars losing their battle to disrupt the ability of the National Park Service to manage off road vehicle use in Salt Creek in Canyonlands National Park. The Herbert administration is willing to argue their intention of opening up these federal lands to off-road vehicle use in front of a judge in federal court; the question is, why do they feel the need to obfuscate that same intention in the court of public opinion?