Let’s say that deep in your fevered little mind, you truly believe you can fly. So long as you keep your mouth shut and your fantasies to yourself, nobody’s business, right? But then suppose this: you put on a cute little bat suit, clamber onto the roof of City Hall, flap your wings wildly and loudly start counting down from 10.

This is the deadly step from private nutter to full-blown, howling public menace—the sort of thing that causes the neighbors to murmur, hold the kids just a little bit closer . . . and never leave the house without a pitchfork and torch.

That’s been the trajectory of Utah’s public land grab. Its eerie public life began last year when Utah Gov. Gary Herbert signed the “Transfer of Public Lands Act.” The law modestly demands that the federal government hand over more than 30 million acres of federal land to Utah by the end of 2014.

Legal experts say the state hasn’t a snowball’s chance of success. But for all its surface silliness, we take the threat very seriously: if the state succeeds, consequences for Utah’s wild lands, air and water will be dire. The state can’t possibly afford the nearly $300 million the federal government now spends annually to manage public lands in Utah so it will be forced to sell off large tracts of public land and to lease much of the rest to destructive extractive industries.

Utah legislators introduced a series of bills this year to advance the governor’s scheme. One of them, HB 142, requires the state’s Public Lands Policy Coordination Office (PLPCO) to study the costs and benefits of transferring public lands to the state and provides $450,000 to fund outside analyses. The bill also requires PLPCO to set up a process by which the state takes title to the land and to detail ways to increase revenue from it (read here: “sell” and “lease”).

When this newsletter went to print, HB 142 was still in committee. It’s likely to pass, though, and Herbert is likely to sign it with another anti-federal outburst.

Now the land grabbers are exporting their strange idea to others, sending emissaries to neighboring states whose legislators probably also believe that cage wrestling is real and so is Manti T’eo’s girlfriend.

Thanks to the support of SUWA members like you, the anti-federal fever that has overwhelmed so many Utah politicians—and has crossed state lines to avoid treatment—is facing increasing opposition. But it’s a long way from over and we will need your help until it is.

—Mathew Gross

(From Redrock Wilderness newsletter, spring 2013 issue)