Finding balance: Utah, the feds, nature and natural resources

The state of Utah recently sued the Obama administration over its wild lands policy. The Salt Lake Tribune reported on Gov. Gary Herbert’s take:

“Herbert warned that the wild lands policy creates a category of lands akin to wilderness without going through the proper congressional process. That puts a drag on resource development, he said, and ‘is not good for Utah. It’s not good for America.’”

That got us thinking. Just how much land does the federal government own in Utah? The answer may surprise you. According to the 2004 Federal Real Property Profile (FRPP) (, the federal government owns a whopping 57.45 percent of all the land in Utah. Check out this map:

What a massive impact on Utah’s economy! How much state tax revenue does Utah lose because it owns less than half its land? What natural resource development, job creation and public education funding opportunities do we miss?

We do have to balance our need to access the state’s natural resources with recreation opportunities and preservation issues. The recreation industry also creates jobs, and we’re confident Utah could find the right balance if given the chance. Unfortunately, federal fiat steals that opportunity from Utahns.

Incredibly, Utah’s plight pales in comparison with two other states. The feds own 84.5 percent of Nevada and 69.1 percent of Alaska. Utah is third on the list, and then comes a bevy of other Western states. Here are the top 10:

  1. Nevada: 84.5%
  2. Alaska: 69.1%
  3. Utah: 57.4%
  4. Oregon: 53.1%
  5. Idaho: 50.2%
  6. Arizona: 48.1%
  7. California: 45.3%
  8. Wyoming: 42.3%
  9. New Mexico: 41.8%
  10. Colorado: 36.6%

The rest of the United States fares much better. A map produced by Stanford Magazine illustrates the disparity:

Of course, federal ownership of and jurisdiction over resource-rich lands has broader implications as well. Giving back to Utah its land and allowing it to develop its natural resources, such as oil shale and natural gas, could help decrease the nation’s dependence on foreign sources of energy and simplify international relations with the Middle East and other energy-rich areas of the world.

These maps paint a startling picture of land management run amok. Utah is right to sue over the federal government’s wild lands policy; it’s a worthy attempt to bring some sanity to this bewildering misuse of Utah’s lands.