In this issue of Salt Lake magazine, we published “Across the Great Divide,” a close look at the clash between Utah lawmakers who want to mine and drill Utah's public lands for the maximum payoff and the outdoor recreation industry that argues those policies would be disastrous to a sustainable recreation and tourism economy. Things have begun to crackle and pop on the controversy.
The state's Constitutional Defense Council scrutinized HB148, the so-called “land-grab” law, and recently reported that the trumpeted economic advantages of state control of public land is more complicated than lawmakers ever imagined (no surprise there). The report brought up a reality often overlooked by Sagebrush rebels—the feds pay hundreds of millions in annual “payment in lieu of taxes” fees to the state and counties that would be lost with state takeover.
Gov. Gary Herbert continues to argue that the state would quickly make that and more back through aggressive development and better land management.
The Constitutional Council's study also recommended:
• Setting aside certain areas as development-free wilderness.
• Create an interim commission to actually study the effects of a transfer of federal land to the state. Many environmentalists find it perplexing that the Legislature passed HB148 before they did a study of its implications.
Meanwhile, more than 100 outdoor-recreation companies joined to ask President Barack Obama to set aside much of the federal land around Canyonlands National Park as a national monument. The group was led by Salt Lake-based Black Diamond's CEO Peter Metcalf, who has taken the fight directly to Herbert, with a threat that his land policies could cost Salt Lake City the annual Outdoor Retailers shows—the biggest conventions in the state:
"We believe this sends a powerful message to all of Utah's congressional delegation," Metcalf said. "This would become one of the greatest national monuments in the West."