Speaker Greg Hughes at the Bears Ears Press Conference in San Juan County

Speaker Greg Hughes at the Bears Ears Press Conference in San Juan County on Dec. 29, 2016

Nearly 70 percent of the land in Utah and 50 percent in the western United States is controlled by the federal government. The compact between the state of Utah and the federal government at the time of the formation of the state, provided for the feds to take stewardship over the land until it could be sold. This compact allowed them to keep 95 percent of the revenue from the sale but required they give 5 percent back to the state for use in education.

This has never been done.

The responsibility of the federal government was to “dispose of” the land; it was never meant for them to hold it in reserve for no productive purpose and cut off the ability of states to utilize it for their own growth and funding.

Because the citizens of Utah have no access to nearly 70% of their land for their own management or development, the burden is on all of the states, through federal expenditures, to upkeep and maintain the land. The federal government hasn’t even been very successful at that, though the cost to taxpayers of maintaining western lands is significant at about $13 billion per year.

Taxpayers will also be further on the hook for the $15 billion in deferred maintenance in the nation’s western national parks, all while the locked-up mineral value of these very lands is assessed at $150 trillion. Add to this the fact that when states manage lands, they’re able to turn that responsibility into revenue of $6.29 per acre, while federally managed lands cost taxpayers $1.86 per acre.

It’s time for the federal government to honor the promises made to the current western states, just as it eventually did for the previously “western” states of Illinois, Missouri, Arkansas, Louisiana, Indiana, Alabama, Mississippi and Florida. After Thomas Hart Benton, a Democrat U.S. senator from Missouri, pushed the federal government for many years to honor its commitments, they finally did and those states were freed from the constraints of federal land control policy.

Now is our time.