Utah Commission Votes to Sue Feds Over Public Lands


St. George New, December 10, 2015 -- The main argument in support of the lawsuit is that the federal government does not have the constitutional authority to permanently retain Utah lands. The document cites three legal theories that it believes gives Utah the right to claim the lands in question:  Equal Sovereignty Principle, the Equal Footing Doctrine and the Compact Theory.

The basis of the legal group’s argument is Utah is treated as a lesser member of the states of the union and has not been given the same rights as other states to have dominion over the lands within its borders.

Nearly two-thirds of the land in Utah is federally owned and multiple issues regarding control of this land have been brought before legislators at both the state and federal level.

In 2012, Rep. Ken Ivory sponsored the Utah Transfer of Public Lands Act, introduced as HB 148. The bill, which was passed by the Legislature and signed into law by Governor Gary Herbert, directed the “United States to extinguish title to public lands and transfer title to those public lands to the state on or before December 31, 2014.”


Washington County Commissioner Alan Gardner said he is pleased with the report.

“I was particularly impressed by a couple of the attorneys that said, as they started this process, they were a little skeptical,” Gardner said. “As they completed it, pretty much everybody there thought there was a pretty solid case.”

Gardner disagreed with Butine’s assessment that there is no historical basis for turning the lands over to the state.

“That was promised to us during our Enabling Act – that the lands would be disposed of,” Gardner said.

Gardner said he felt the state would do a better job of managing the land. He pointed to federal regulations limiting access and use of those lands, saying the numerous rules make the land virtually unusable.

“If the state has its way, we’re not bound by all those federal i’s that have to be dotted and t’s to be crossed to go ahead and manage like they need to be managed. We’ll be able to have better–managed forests, less fires and more productivity from our lands,” He said.

Gardner also disputed Butine’s claim state control would lead to more development and less preservation.

“I don’t think they’re going to be developed more,” he said. “With better access we’ll be able to use the natural resources that are there. We’re not going to see a huge change, it will still remain public lands, only managed by the state.”

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