Educators in Utah spoke out again last week against Governor Herbert’s land grab – this time directly to legislators on the Natural Resources Interim Committee.
Heather Bennett, a three term Salt Lake City Board of Education member, spoke on behalf of For Kids and Lands, a new group calling for the protection of Utah’s public lands and realistic solutions to education funding. Bennett took land grab proponents to task for claiming the effort to seize Utah’s lands could help fund education. “You are chasing an imaginary unicorn, rather than working on realistic solutions,” she said, pointing out that the state’s own lawyers have said the land transfer bill has “high probability of being declared unconstitutional.”
In addition, Bennett emphasized that the state’s 30 lawsuits claiming title to 35,000 miles of dirt routes would cost the state millions, diverting money that could go to education, while harming the scenic values that “make Utah a fabulous place for family recreation and renewal.”
Jim Thompson, a 5th generation Utahn who has taught in Utah’s public schools for 31 years, challenged the legislators’ unrealistic and harmful view of public lands as only a “pot of gold.” “Is this what we want for our federal public lands – to manage them only for economic interests?” Thompson also described the damage he has seen from areas opened up to excessive roads. “As a teacher and scout leader I’ve taken kids into these areas and seen what happens. The land becomes marred and scarred. There is more litter and disruption.”
Legislators on the committee pushed back, with Rep Mike Noel, an outspoken advocate for state control of federal lands and roads, simply telling For Kids and Lands, “You are wrong on this issue. These groups (referring to SUWA!) have an agenda and feed you misinformation. They don’t care about your kids. I do.”
But Joe Andrade, a Utah educator who joined other teachers and students supporting For Kids and Lands in the audience, suggested another alternative in his blog. Utah’s elected leaders, he wrote, “need to look at the read economics of Federal lands.” “Federal lands, and especially National Parks and Monuments, generate many millions each year into their regional economies, creating jobs and taxes which indeed fund our schools – and other needs.” Utah’s legislators “should be advocating for more Parks and Monuments, not less. That’s where the real money is for Utah in Federal lands. And our Congressional delegation should be leading the charge for more Parks and Monuments in Utah – and for National Park Service and BLM funding to manage them.”
To add your name to For Kids and Lands position statement: www.forkidsandlands.org
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