Most people would agree that commanders on the front lines are better equipped to call the shots in the heat of battle than pen pushers sitting at their desks thousands of miles away. Well, it is equally true that people who live and work in Utah can do a better job of managing our public lands than the federal government.
That is why I, along with Rep. Rob Bishop, am working with the Utah Legislature and other stakeholders to develop an initiative that will give Utahns more control of our state's public lands. We know we can more responsibly manage our lands than Washington bureaucrats. Moreover, we know being stewards of our public lands will help improve our quality of life, as well as funding for public education in our state.
Currently, 63 percent of all our land is owned by the federal government, which often makes unilateral decisions without bothering to talk or consult with state and local officials. As a result, we here in Utah know firsthand what is like to have limited access to and control over our roads and natural resources.
For example, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) issued a ruling last month that effectively closed down more than 1.5 million acres of Utah land rich in oil shale and tar sands, thus missing an opportunity to create jobs and lower energy costs for Utahns.
This is not a singular occurrence. It is part of a larger pattern with this White House, which has acted in concert with its extreme environmentalist allies to block access and shut down activity on as many acres of public land in Utah and other Western states as possible.
Recently, for instance, the Interior Department opted to yank more than $100 million worth of leases in Utah and Wyoming -- federal leases that had already passed muster with the EPA and had been auctioned off. All told, the Obama administration has cut energy leases on our Utah lands by 80 percent over the past three years.
In southern Utah, prairie dogs are burrowing into graves, digging holes in airport runways and destroying golf courses. Unfortunately, they are protected as an endangered species and the Administration, to this point, will not allow their removal anywhere but in agricultural areas. The federal government also routinely chokes off public access to recreation areas and roads in rural Utah that are vital to our Western way of life.
This is an outrage. It strikes at the heart of federalism, which is what our system of government is supposed to stand for -- the sharing of power between national and state government.
But this is more than just an issue over access, control or federalism. It is about the fact that these federally controlled lands do not generate any state taxes, which is extremely harmful to our public education system that is funded by property taxes.
With state control, most of our public lands would be revenue generators we could tap to further our children's educational advancement. By controlling our own public lands, we could finally do something about per pupil funding in Utah, which lags far behind that in most other states.
Utah's land managers should have more authority than the BLM when it comes to managing our state's lands. After all, states in the eastern U.S. don't have near as much federally owned land as we have, and yet they are doing a fine job of being responsible stewards. It is time to put Utah on equal footing with respect to controlling our own land and natural resources.
Last month, state lawmakers took a step in the right direction by passing legislation calling for the transfer of federal land in Utah to the state. I applaud that effort and look forward to working with them to make that a reality.