BREAKING NEWS -- Utah's Big Step For More Effective State Control of Public Lands

BREAKING NEWS -- A Big Step Forward For More Effective State Control of Public Lands

The nation just took a big step forward toward better outcomes environmentally and economically for 50% of all lands west of the Rockies, which are still under the thumb of distant federal bureaucrats and politicians.

After receiving an exhaustive legal and historical analysis concerning federal control over public lands, the Utah Commission for the Stewardship of Public Lands voted yesterday to move forward with preparations for legal action against the federal government.


The analysis, produced by a team of renowned constitutional scholars and legal experts from across the nation, concluded the federal government has no authority to retain near permanent ownership of the public lands inside a state, noting, “legitimate legal theories exists to pursue litigation in an effort to gain ownership or control of the public lands.”

While presenting the legal report to the Utah legislative committee this week, preeminent constitutional scholar Ronald Rotunda likened Utah and other western states to “orphans” and “second class citizens” deprived of essential sovereign powers of statehood by unsanctioned federal dominion over their lands. This is critical to the nation, he said, because strong, self-governing states “are critical to the internal checks of the Constitution.”

At a time when the federal government seems widely out of control, the legal findings should encourage everyone who values these unique internal checks our system of federalism established “to protect the liberty of the individual,” as Professor Rotunda emphasized.

The overall conclusion of the legal analysis is that compelling legal bases exist for the State of Utah to challenge federal ownership of public lands in the state. The findings identify three primary legal theories as having merit:

  1. The Equal Sovereignty Principle, which mandates that the States in the U.S. federal system be equal in sovereignty with one another.
  2. The Equal Footing Doctrine, which requires that States admitted to the U.S. subsequent to the original 13 Colonies should receive all sovereign rights enjoyed by previously existing states, including the right to control land within their borders.
  3. The Compact Theory, which means that Utah's acceptance of admission into the U.S. entailed explicit and implicit promises that the federal government would "timely dispose" of public lands in Utah's borders, as it had done with the states admitted prior to Utah.   

 In Utah, the federal government still controls more than 66% of all of Utah lands, more than 50% of all lands west of the Rockies. By contrast, the federal government controls a less than 5% of lands east of the Rockies.

“This is a huge step forward in transitioning control of public lands to the States, and restoring balance so we can ensure locally-driven management practices that better provide for a healthy environment, abundant outdoor recreation, and safe vibrant communities,” noted Utah State Rep Ken Ivory.

In 2012, Ivory successfully carried legislation demanding the federal government relinquish title to most of the lands presently managed by the United States Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management. He has since been travelling the nation on a campaign to inform others of the issue which has attracted nationwide support from groups including the National Association of Counties and American Farm Bureau. Several states, both east and west of the Rockies have introduced legislation in favor of shifting control to the States.

Supporters of transitioning to state control over public lands note that one-size-fits-all federal bureaucratic management is not working. “Federal land management has been hijacked by foreign funded extremist groups, resulting in overgrown forests and record setting catastrophic wildfires that cause air pollution worse than Beijing, China, incinerate wildlife by the millions, and decimate water supplies and habitat for decades” said Montana State Senator Jennifer Fielder, chair of Montana's study of federal land management.

An independent report by the Property and Environmental Research Center (PERC) finds that the fiscally challenged federal government loses 27 cents for every dollar it spends “managing” public lands. States, on the other hand, generate on average a positive $14.51 for every dollar they spend for the millions of acres of public lands that they already control and manage effectively.

Kane County Utah Commissioner Doug Heaton noted that federal mismanagement of diverse western lands is harming the environment and costing taxpayers nationwide billions of dollars. "Federal land control deprives western communities of the ability to tax the lands or manage the resources in a beneficial manner to provide for essential government services" Heaton remarked. The federal government subsidizes these communities with PILT payments, Payments In Lieu of the Taxes these communities would otherwise generate but for federal control. According to U.S. Sen. Mike Lee, “There is no guaranteed amount. Washington just sends what it feels like sending.” This federally imposed dependency creates a serious vulnerability, as Sen. Lee describes it, for Congress to “lord[] its power over western communities to extort political concessions from them, like some two-bit protection racket.” For the nation, this means Washington can manipulate western votes to extract hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars and further metastasize federal power.

For the growing movement to #FreeTheLands for more effective local care, Wednesday’s news from Utah was truly historic. With the release of this key report, the State of Utah has taken a critical step towards finally wresting its lands out of federal hands, empowering other Western states to follow suit, and restoring much needed constitutional and fiscal balance for our nation as a whole. 

 If Utah's attorney general Sean Reyes decides to litigate, we believe this case merits close attention from all freedom-loving Americans nationwide. 

The American Lands Council and Federalism In Action are the leading organizations educating about the Free The Lands movement. For general information about how to #FreeTheLands for more effective locally-driven management, please have a look at this handbook and policy statement and share them with other concerned Americans searching for a real solution big enough for many of the pressing problems facing our nation.

 Here are some links to news stories on the unveiling of this historic legal report:

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