Utah Native Plant Society

The posts contained herein may not always necessarily represent the official positions and views of the Utah Native Plant Society and are mine alone; nonetheless, this blog is intended to largely supplement the Utah Native Plant Society web site and has similar goals and objectives and when I think my slant about something is perhaps either controversial or straying from what might be generally supported by UNPS, I will try to so indicate since I am also the webmaster for the UNPS web site, a former UNPS board member, conservation co-chair, Utah rare plants guide coordinator, and remain actively involved with day-to-day issues involving the organization. Much of the information contained here will therefore no doubt therefore relate to issues of current concern to the UNPS board and/or its members, inquires made to unps@unps.org, postings made on the UNPS listserv, and the activities our various committees are involved with (conservation, restoration, rare plant issues, invasive species, horticulture and more) and our many and various botanical connections not the least of which are the herbariums based in Utah and elsewhere, and other conservation organizations that have goals that overlap those of UNPS.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Utah Land Transfer Study

Utah's $450,000 taxpayer funded land transfer study has been released, and has been endorsed by PLPCO (Public Lands Policy Coordinating Office for the state of Utah) which spearheaded the study following a legislative mandate.

The 732+ page report can be downloaded from this link (scroll down to H.B. 142 and the section "Economic Feasilibility of Transferring Public Lands" i.e. it is the third link):


The last link on that page is PLPCO's November 28, 2014 summary.

The report was prepared by economists at the University of Utah, Utah State University and Weber State University.  The document however was clearly heavily influenced by PLPCO and others in state government.  It can hardly be viewed as an independent study.  And it misses the mark in terms of failing to include a fully multidisciplinary approach, critical for an accurate assessment of the economic impacts of such an incredibly complex land transfer.

Its conclusion:

"In conclusion, from a strictly financial perspective, it is likely the state of Utah could take ownership of the lands and cover the costs to manage them. Our research also suggests that it could put a strain on the state’s funding priorities in the early years as the state adjusts to the loss of federal dollars, evaluates land resources and conditions and develops programs to replace those now managed by federal agencies."

The report is full of tables outlining expenditures and projections but despite its length seems to treat topics cursorily at best and despite being called a "pathway" to further action by PLPCO,  there appears to be little wisdom in spending more time and effort on this transfer lawsuit notion from purely an economic and administrative point of view (much less the exceptionally shaky legal grounds of any potential transfer litigation action by the state, which really seems to be trying to posture itself into a bargaining position rather than trying to really pursue a full takeover of any kind).

It is particularly clear that the purpose of the document is to justify the pathway for development of the state's energy resources more than anything else, and free itself from what it views as excessive bureaucratic oversight and federal laws that it otherwise must comply with.  Yet, at some point the state needs to realize that the federal laws and regulations that they want to simply eliminate have evolved the way they have for a reason.  And that Utah is in fact a part of a country and is no longer either the State of Deseret nor the Utah Territory.

And the report in no way provides a blueprint for how the state would suddenly and realistically manage the resources that it would suddenly come to possess regardless of the state's intentions.

While the report attempts to outline the annual cost of the BLM and U.S. Fish & Wildlife Species endangered species programs (wildlife and plants), it is very unclear as to why that cost is included in the analysis (which recognizes that it isn't really possible to exactly identify those costs that are specific to Utah alone).  Does the state intend to setup new equivalent agencies to manage, for example, currently federally listed plant species and spend at least the same amount of money to fund those new agencies? Will they be changing and dismantling the School and Institutional Trust Land Administration's (SITLA) mandate to force that agency to be more accountable, transparent and responsible to the public, and manage its lands according to multiple use land management practices (that in today's world is referred to more properly as "ecosystem management") and cease its role primarily as a developer of state lands?

Rep. Ken Ivory, the sponsor of HB 148 which ultimately led to this study, makes comparisons between SITLA land management and BLM land management that are completely skewed, and he like many of his colleagues enable their elections through "federal fear" campaigns.  While his bill supposedly contains a reference to "multiple use" management, that is not the kind of management that SITLA since its formation in 1994 has ever implemented.  His references to the lack of local management and knowledge by federal natural resource agencies is blatantly wrong.  The individuals working for these agencies are just as local and typically equally if not more knowledgeable than individuals working for state agencies and they have vastly more resources to support them and they are actually working under laws and regulatory guidelines that the state completely lacks.  They live and work in the same communities and often are lifetime Utahns.  How did this not make them "local"?  If SITLA or some other state agency hires someone from out-of-state, does that mean that lands are then no longer being managed by someone local if that person is involved (since at least initially they would have no local knowledge)?  The arguments being made in this regard are ridiculous and without foundation.  Further Utah land management and related agencies due to the lack of Utah laws relating to environmental protection have often had abysmal records and there are numerous examples from reforms needed within the Division of Oil, Gas & Mining, the emphasis on hunting and lack of an ecosystem approach by the Division of Wildlife Resources, the fairly recent elimination of one of the few state botanist positions within the Department of Natural Resources (that continued only with the support of the BLM but moved to operate under Utah State University), the gutting of scientists working on amphibian protection under Leavitt, and on and on.  Despite being local, these agencies have clearly often NOT acted in the best interests of Utah, and more often than not they have instead displayed a defiant, anti-science attitude.

When someone like Ivory or Tony Rampton or others talk about BLM grazing restrictions that "aren't working" they seemingly do that in an oblivious context of not  understanding the devastation that grazing has caused in the arid West (and which have led to our fire-prone landspaces and significantly impacted biodiversity; the overall costs are incalculable and are likely not fixable)   They have failed to read and learn the lessons taught early on by Utahn Walter Cottam.  (And curiously, it has been brought to my attention that ranchers pay much less to the federal goverment for their grazing leases per AUM (Animal Unit Month) than they do with the state.  So why are ranchers so anxious for the state to take over their management?).

And when Ivory and others talk about how the federal government is "tied up in knots" to the point where they can't act, and that organizations like SUWA sue the federal government claiming mismanagement, etc., what they are really saying is that with the state in charge, there won't be an opportunity for public input nor for citizen lawsuits.  With more Gestapo-style control and management as is already exhibited in a number of state resource management agencies,  the public won't have the opportunity that it does now to be involved and won't be able to force state agencies to do the right thing when needed, and live up to mandates and standards that they currently lack.  They will simply be able to do whatever they want.

And the mantra that we hear from various local agencies, governments and legislators that "We live here, so of course we will do that right thing" is often not supported by the actions that they take, which are almost never appropriately balanced approaches.

Many state legislators adamantly deny the existence of climate change.  Utah Congressman Jason Chaffetz even recently went so far as to call it a "farce."  With these enlightened minds, our lands will be better managed with more local control?

The economists would have to know how the state's philosophy is going to change in terms of how it is going to manage its lands differently than it does now in order to properly assess the costs of a transfer, and they would then need appropriate input from the scientific community and others in order to make that financial analysis.

For example, while there are some references in the study with respect to invasive, noxious, and fire-prone plant species, plants are otherwise not referred to in any way.  We still have no state laws that protect endangered, threatened, sensitive or rare plant species.  How is this going to change legislatively, if at all, should a land transfer occur and at what cost?   Will the Utah Division of Forestry, Fire & State Lands (formerly the Division of State Lands & Forestry) still be merely responsible for managing the bottoms of rivers and lakes rather than actual lands and forestry (as it was before 1994)?  With essentially no current state botanists on staff, if the state is going to somehow manage T&E plant species in some fashion, then how?  Or, is the whole point to completely do away with any protections for native plant species?

Related Salt Lake Tribune editorial dated December 2, 2014 (entitled "Land transfer would tie Utah’s future to oil"):



Some encouraging developments showing increasing opposition to the idea of federal land transfers in the west have begun to emerge since the posting of this piece.

A large rally occurred in Helena, Montana on February 16, 2015 as further outlined here:


Demonstrators held signs that included:

Keep your hands off our public lands

Keep public land in public hands

No Utah wingnut ideas here in Montana

On February 25, 2015, a coalition of sportsmen groups met at the Denver state capitol in Colorado:


Quote from the article:

"If Utah succeeds in taking over federal public lands, the public would have less, not more, input into land management, and all who utilize what are now public lands — industry and recreation interests alike — would see the cost of access increase substantially," University of Utah law professors Bob Keiter and John Ruple wrote in an analysis of the Transfer of Public Lands Act."

Citation to the U of U law professors' article:

Keiter, Robert B. and Ruple, John, The Transfer of Public Lands Movement: Taking the 'Public' Out of Public Lands (January 28, 2015). Stegner Center White Paper No. 2015-01 Research paper No.99. Available at SSRN:http://ssrn.com/abstract=2555922.

More hopefully will follow.

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