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Utah Travel Headlines

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Battle For Control of Public Land in Utah

The LA Times recently ran this article on the fight to control public land in Utah. Now, the story is being picked up and carried by a number of news outlets around the country.

The article's lead paragraph is intriguing, albeit a bit sensational:

"It's a small gesture of defiance - a narrow metal bridge that allows off-road vehicles illegal access to this archeologically rich canyon. But the modest structure, built by San Juan County officials on U.S. government land, is a symbol of the widespread local resistance to federal authority across much of southern Utah's magnificent countryside."

The article is interesting, from my perspective as a native of rural Utah. I hope it helps stir dialog, but don’t think it accurately depicts what is going on here.

The vast majority of land in Utah is public - owned by the federal government. And there has long been a struggle over what to do with pieces of that land (whether to allow cattle grazing, mining and development, or whether to ban motorized travel and preserve the land as wilderness).

The outcome of this struggle will affect the lifestyle of folks living in nearby areas, along with recreational opportunities and tourism.

The battle does not really pit rural Utah against the federal government. Rather, people who favor development and motorized recreation (particularly ATV use) are opposed to those who want to control off-road travel and preserve wilderness values. There are people on all sides of that argument living in rural Utah, and also staffing government offices. The article makes it sound as if the BLM is a champion of conservation, and that is often not the case.

Virtually everyone favors preserving land that has true wilderness value. The question centers on where you draw the lines – what parcels are included and what are not – and who makes those decisions.

Some in rural Utah argue they should have a major say in decisions regarding this land, since the outcome will have a great impact on their lives. Others argue that southern Utah is a national treasure belonging to all of us – that its significance far outweighs local interests.

There is truth to both those arguments.

The article includes this ridiculous statement: Settlers, on the other hand, have been famously indifferent to the scenery. "A hell of a place to lose a cow," is how 19th century homesteader Ebenezer Bryce is said to have described the labyrinthine landscape now known as Bryce Canyon National Park.

Yes, Ebenezer Bryce made that statement. But that doesn’t mean he was indifferent to the scenery. He chose to make his home there because he loved the landscape.

Utahns love this land. Always have, from the earliest settlers to the present day. That’s why we live here. We want a voice in how it is managed. But we aren’t in full revolt against the government.

And, believe it or not, opinions here range across the spectrum, from environmentalist to ATV driving rugged individualist.

It will be interesting to see how this plays out over the years.

- Dave Webb


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