Blue lupine wildflowers above the ski runs in Park City, Utah, USA.

Testimony in Support of HCR 1 (Concurrent Resolution to Secure the Perpetual Health and Vitality of Utah’s Public Lands and Its Status as a Premier Public Lands State)

Testimony given by Matthew Anderson on February 24, 2017, in support of HCR 1 (Concurrent Resolution to Secure the Perpetual Health and Vitality of Utah’s Public Lands and Its Status as a Premier Public Lands State) before the House Natural Resources, Agriculture and Environment Standing Committee of the Utah Legislature.

Good morning, representatives. My name is Matt Anderson and I am a policy analyst for the Coalition for Self-Government in the West, a project of Sutherland Institute.

Utah is a public lands state and always will be. Unfortunately, this fact has become muddled and often drowned out by strident voices. The state’s efforts to transfer more than 30 million acres of federally controlled lands to state control is NOT about selling public lands off to the highest bidder, dotting every inch of the state in oil and gas wells, or wanting cattle to run rampant across our state’s pristine landscapes. Utah loves its public lands and all Utahns want these places open and accessible.

Local control and conservation are not mutually exclusive. Giving Utah the ability to manage federally controlled public lands will improve the environment and bring more recreational opportunities to the state. From the federal government’s inability to properly defend our national forests from the devastating effects of catastrophic wildfire to the U.S. Forest Service closing roads across the state, federal land management is not working. The state and its people have an unparalleled love for and knowledge of our public lands. This best positions us to care for their well-being.

And we have shown this time and again. Our state has 43 state parks and is paving the way to bring that number to 45 this legislative session. We have the largest watershed and wildlife habitat restoration program in the nation. Utah created the first Office of Outdoor recreation in the country.

Perhaps most importantly, the Utah Land Management Policy Act passed last legislative session sets a plan in place for transferred federal lands ensuring that fish and wildlife development, wilderness conservation and outdoor recreation will be part of the multiple-use management model employed by our state. This law declares that it is the policy of the state to keep public lands in public hands, affirming our state’s commitment to securing conservation and promoting the types and quality of recreational opportunities we desire.

This resolution, as its name suggests, will help secure the perpetual health and vitality of our public lands and ensure a vibrant future for all Utahns.

Outdoor Retailer should avoid ultimatums on lands policy

Today, some leaders from the outdoor retail industry are making demands and issuing ultimatums to Utah’s elected officials, threatening to pull the Outdoor Retailer trade shows from the state.

Their aggressive actions highlight how the discussion around public land management has been absolutely degraded. So, while questioning our state’s values and love for public lands, their ultimatums are actually restricting and undermining real collaboration and constructive dialogue on this critical issue. So, those who care about our public lands need to move beyond the bluster and bombast and get to principled compromise and viable land management solutions.

Clearly, tourism and outdoor recreation play a vital role in Utah’s economy today and will for generations to come. Utah’s unparalleled beauty and recreational opportunities draw visitors from around the world, driving small businesses, providing tax revenue, and making our state a great place to work, live and play.

To claim that the only appropriate use of our public lands is outdoor recreation is to ignore the needs of real Utahns – especially those who live in our rural communities. And despite the false claims often depicted on the internet and in the media, responsible land management is not a zero-sum game with only winners and losers.

The type of bullying rhetoric currently coming from some in the outdoor retail industry is creating the kind of fake fight and false choices we often see in Washington, D.C. That is not how we do it here in Utah.

We understand that stewardship of natural resources is everyone’s responsibility. We know public lands can and ought to be put to multiple – often complementary – uses, which expands the economic pie to everyone’s benefit. We must remember that ultimatums kill collaboration and compromise.

We call on Utah’s elected officials, the outdoor retail industry, and other key voices to engage in an inclusive, elevated dialogue that will lead to land management policy that will foster a healthy environment, abundant recreational opportunities, and a diverse thriving economy for all Utahns now and for many generations to come. That is the Utah way.

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San Juan County residents bring civil opposition to S.L. Bears Ears celebration

Twelve hours on the road, 600 miles, and day-old gas-station food – that’s what a group of San Juan County residents willingly went through so they could have their voices heard at Monday’s Bears Ears celebration hosted by groups who supported the monument designation.

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Throughout the campaign to designate the Bears Ears National Monument, the most important voices – those of locals who are directly impacted by the designation – were repeatedly ignored and drowned out. Local tribes and the people of San Juan County were simply outmatched by the deep pockets, deceptive tactics and loud voices of extreme environmental groups, out-of-state tribal leaders, and the pen of President Barack Obama. Despite the uphill battle these people faced, they kept fighting for their home. That fight continued on Monday evening as they worked to inform the public of their plight and persuade the Trump administration to rescind or reduce the Bears Ears National Monument.

The group of 25 or so protesters arrived more than an hour before the festivities began – standing outside with their signs and talking of their hope to get things “back to normal.” Once the event began they quietly took their seats and listened to the presentations from out-of-state tribal leaders. Such civility has been a rarity in the Bears Ears debate. Monument supporters have made a bad habit of interrupting public meetings by shouting talking points and yelling at legislators. The courtesy displayed by this small group of San Juan County residents was a model of what the exercise of our First Amendment right should look like.

After the meeting I spoke with Devin Hancock, an organizer of the protest, and asked her why her group came all the way to Salt Lake City. “This monument designation is not about love and protection of the land. It’s about control, power, publicity and money,” Hancock said. “Money-hungry recreational and environmental NGOs (non-governmental organizations) used manipulative tactics to sway some Native Americans outside of San Juan County and others into believing this is right. Native Americans should not be used as political pawns; this is not a game to us.”

While their group at Monday’s event was small, the San Juan residents have what should be the most important voice in the Bears Ears debate. There is no denying that the lands within the monument are public and open to all Americans. However, no one is impacted more by Obama’s designation of the monument than the people of San Juan County. These public lands provide live-sustaining resources, jobs and educational funding, and they are an integral part of the residents’ culture and way of life. This area is a part of who they are and part of their children’s future.

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Testimony in favor of HCR 7 (Concurrent Resolution Supporting Ranchers Grazing Livestock on Public Lands)

Testimony given by Matthew Anderson on Jan. 31, 2017, in support of HCR 7 (Concurrent Resolution Supporting Ranchers Grazing Livestock on Public Lands) before the House Natural Resources, Agriculture, and Environment Committee of the Utah Legislature.

Good afternoon, representatives,

My name is Matt Anderson and I am a policy analyst for the Coalition for Self-Government in the West – a project of Sutherland Institute. I stand here today to voice my support for HCR 7 and present some research I conducted on the invaluable role of ranching on our public lands.

It is no secret that grazing has declined across the West. While the BLM and USFS do not conduct annual counts of livestock grazing on the public lands they manage, they do compile information on the number of “Animal Unit Months” – the amount of forage needed to sustain one cow and her calf, one horse, or five sheep or goats for a month.

When averaged together, the number of AUMs in BLM grazing districts in Western states is less than half of what it was in 1949 – with some states seeing a drop of more than 70 percent. Utah is one of those states. In the last 65 years the number of operators and permittees allowed to graze in Western states dipped from 21,081 to 10,187. Such a sharp decline has not only impacts ranchers’ way of life, but has a profound and lasting effect on taxpayers, local economies, and the environment.

The BLM and USFS have great potential to generate revenue for the public good. However, on average these federal agencies lose taxpayers nearly $2 billion each year – with grazing losses accounting for a substantial portion of this shortfall. From 2009 to 2013, the BLM and USFS spent an average of $9.41 per AUM, while state trust lands in Arizona, Idaho, Montana and New Mexico spent $2.30 per AUM. At the same time, average federal return per AUM was only $1.18 compared to the state average of $7.79. While states often charge higher prices for grazing than the federal government, their policies actually encourage public grazing opportunities. The federal government’s high management costs, inefficiencies and political entanglements are costing the American public.

Agriculture is a substantial part of Utah’s economy, but plays an even more significant role in the rural parts of our state. When grazing declines, these communities suffer the most. In a study conducted by Utah State University, it was determined that grazing has declined by almost one-third within the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. This corresponds with the loss of 81 jobs and a decreased economic output of over $9 million per year. For the small rural counties of Kane and Garfield, whose combined population is less than 15,000, the effects have been devastating.

Ranching also plays an invaluable role in improving Western rangelands. Like your lawn, which needs trimming and mowing, rangelands need attention or they die. Harvesting the annually renewing forage on our public lands maintains the health and vitality of these ecosystems by reducing fuel loads that can lead to catastrophic wildfires.

Ranchers are also a vital piece of the rangeland puzzle. Take volunteer firefighting, for example. Rancher-run rangeland fire protection associations mobilize as first responders – often extinguishing blazes long before federal fire crews arrive. In Idaho alone, 146 rangeland protection firefighters fought 56 wildfires in 2015. It would be almost impossible to quantify how many watersheds, how much wildlife, and how many acres of vital habitat these volunteers have saved over the years.

This environmental stewardship extends well beyond firefighting as ranchers regularly partner with environmental agencies and universities to monitor land, water and wildlife; report suspicious and illegal activity to local law enforcement; plant fire resistant species; and improve water sources. The continued decline of grazing operators and permittees has serious implications for the environment.

We in the West don’t see land use in terms of winners and losers; it is not ruled by the zero-sum economics (one person’s gain must be explained by another’s loss) that is insinuated in federal land management policy. We understand that the pie can grow to everyone’s benefit, and most public lands can be – and ought to be – put to multiple, often complementary, uses. Grazing reduces fuel loads, which helps prevent catastrophic wildfires. Recreationists hike cattle trails and utilize roads established by ranchers. Stock ponds are a year-round supply of water for wildlife.

It is time to repair decades of federal mismanagement and reinstate grazing as an essential part of what it means for public lands to be multiple-use. HCR 7 begins to move us in that direction.

Thank you.

Cody, Wyoming, USA - View across the rugged undulating rugged landscape of Buffalo Bill State park showing the rocky mountains  near Cody, Wyoming, USA. As can be seen the sagebrush thrives in this landscape despite the aridity and the fact that this shot was taken in the height of summer.

10 FAQs on the transfer of public lands

10 FAQs and resources

The beginning of Utah’s 2017 legislative session should bring good news for Utah’s public lands. Rep. Keven Stratton (R-Orem) is introducing a resolution aimed at securing control of our public lands in the hands of those who know and love them the most – the people of Utah. For too long federal mismanagement of our public lands has devastated the environment, depressed local economies, underfunded public education, and blocked recreational access. Our public lands, our communities and our families deserve better.

For the last five years, Utah has pursued legislative efforts and explored legal avenues to transfer title to 31 million acres of U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service lands to the state in an attempt to remedy the consequences of federal management. (This effort does not include national parks, national wilderness, or the vast majority of Utah’s national monuments.)

HCR 1, Concurrent Resolution on Public Lands, moves toward making this a reality. Stratton’s resolution encourages the state to continue to pursue legislative means but stipulates that “in the absence of satisfactory legislative progress” by Dec. 1, 2017, the state will file a lawsuit with the U.S. Supreme Court.

As this resolution gets more attention over the coming weeks, those opposed to local control of our public lands will undoubtedly try to blur the line between fact and fiction in an attempt to drum up opposition. To combat their unfounded rhetoric, the Coalition for Self-Government in the West has produced a document titled Transfer of Public Lands: 10 FAQs & Resources, designed to dispel the myths surrounding the movement to transfer public lands to willing Western states. We hope the public and legislators will look to this document and its accompanying resources to learn more about what the transfer will mean for the state of Utah and the benefits of local management.

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Op-ed: Bears Ears Monument runs counter to American ideals

Originally published in The Salt Lake Tribune.

Earlier this week, news broke that President Barack Obama intends to lock up wide swaths of Utah’s public lands by designating 1.4 to 1.9 million acres as the Bears Ears National Monument.

It appears that Utahns’ calls – from our entire congressional delegation, Gov. Gary Herbert, the state Legislature, local Native American groups and all of San Juan County’s commissioners and city councils – for the president to stay his hand have fallen on deaf and apathetic ears.

Unfortunately, such action is not a new phenomenon but has played out time and again as presidents across the political spectrum have imposed their will through an unjust and un-American law.

Since 1906, all but three presidents have used the Antiquities Act to bypass congressional and local opposition to designate national monuments. These presidential proclamations secure their signers’ place in history through the political speeches, bronze plaques and fanfare surrounding them. What history neglects to reflect, however, is that such unilateral designations fly in the face of the democratic process and often hurt rural communities.

The turn of the 20th century saw widespread destruction, looting and desecration of our nation’s historical sites and natural wonders. In an attempt to preserve these cultural resources, President Theodore Roosevelt and Congress acted collaboratively to pass the Antiquities Act. In addition to making the disturbance or destruction of our nation’s cultural resources illegal and punishable by a fine and imprisonment, it also gave the president authority to set aside national monuments with just the stroke of a pen. These designations were to be “confined to the smallest area compatible with the proper care and management of the objects to be protected.” While the intent to preserve and protect our nation’s treasures was pure, this legislation subverted the democratic process and paved the way for presidential abuse.

In recent decades the good intentions of the Antiquities Act have been abused and exploited to promote self-interest and engage in political gamesmanship. National monument designations have become a way for presidents to leave their mark on history and gain favor with environmental groups. These accolades encourage presidents to deviate from historical norms and designate more monuments of greater and greater size. According to National Park Service data, newly designated monuments averaged 15,573 acres in 1906. National monuments designated in 2016 average 715,258 acres – more than 45 times the size of those created 110 years ago. The power that was intended to protect limited areas has turned into a mechanism for presidents to glorify their names. This mentality shows little care for the interests of the rural communities that neighbor national monuments and of the people who are most impacted by their creation.

For example, President Bill Clinton’s 1.7-million-acre designation of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in Utah’s Kane and Garfield counties has economically devastated the region. A once-thriving ranching industry is becoming a shadow of its former self. Twenty years after the designation, the number of animals grazing on the monument has declined by almost a third, corresponding with lost jobs and an annual loss to the local economy of more than $9 million. For the small rural counties of Kane and Garfield, whose combined population numbers less than 15,000, this has had a profound and lasting impact.

Those ranchers still in the area face an uphill battle. They struggle to extend or move water lines within their allotments, fence riparian areas, maintain roads or take other necessary measures to ensure the health and safety of their livestock. This has slowly pushed cattle off the range and ranchers off the land their families have worked for generations. In 2015, Garfield County was forced to declare an economic and scholastic state of emergency, as many of its residents have left seeking employment elsewhere.

Such economic loss is not unique to southeastern Utah. It has played out across the West time and again alongside national monument designations. It can, however, be avoided in the future by incorporating the democratic process into monument designations through congressional oversight and local input.

The protection of our nation’s historic, cultural and natural resources is among the noblest of pursuits. However, turning our backs on the democratic process to do so undermines who we are as Americans. Despite what extreme environmental groups may preach, representation and conservation are not mutually exclusive. Checks and balances have produced principled and cooperative legislation for more than two centuries, and land policy does not have to be an exception.

Adding the voices of locals and their representatives who care for and love public lands the most will improve the monument designation process by mitigating the selfish disregard that presidents have shown for rural Americans. This is about more than just land; it is about people — and about preserving the ideals on which our nation was built.

Orlando, Florida, USA - October 28, 2016: President Barack Obama makes the case for Hillary Clinton to young voters at the University of Central Florida.

Sutherland Institute condemns imminent Bears Ears National Monument designation

According to multiple sources, President Barack Obama will designate 1.4 to 1.9 million acres in San Juan County as the Bears Ears National Monument next week.

Sutherland Institute condemns this blatant abuse of executive power and calls on Congress and President-elect Donald Trump to commit to rescind this national monument designation and allow local voices to be heard. 

Furthermore, we call on these elected officials to amend the Antiquities Act to require congressional approval for future monument designations. 

 Sutherland Institute, Utah Governor Gary Herbert and the entire Utah congressional delegation, along with San Juan County Navajos, recently held a press conference in Washington, D.C. San Juan County Navajo Susie Philemon said, “Native Americans have given up enough of their ancestral lands for national monuments. President Obama, we the local native residents of San Juan County, Utah, have managed to protect this enchanted place and will continue to do so. Please do not take this land from us. Please don’t break more promises … not again.

Sutherland Institute continues to encourage San Juan County residents to make their voices heard by sharing their stories via video and written posts on social media.

In Washington, Sutherland Institute President Boyd Matheson said, “Often overpowered by well-funded, out-of-state environmentalists and big corporate interests are the voices of the people who actually live in San Juan County.” He continued, “A wealthy man’s monument should never come at the expense of a working man’s dream.”

Matt Anderson, policy analyst at Sutherland Institute, said, “There are many ways to be careful stewards of the land. Our public lands can and ought to be used for multiple and often complementary uses. Rather than a monumental mess by executive order, real compromise – which includes state and local voices – is the way to ensure responsible land management. Utahns across the political spectrum and citizens across the country should support this approach.”

Anderson concluded, “Instead of principled and sensible management of their home, the people of San Juan County will be subjected to increased heavy-handed and ineffective federal regulations – putting archaeological sites at risk as never before, devastating the local economy, restricting traditional Native American practices, and jeopardizing the future of San Juan County. Our friends in San Juan County deserve better.”  

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10 questions about the Bears Ears for the outdoor retail industry

Yesterday, some of the country’s biggest outdoor retailers threw their support behind the proposed Bears Ears National Monument, despite opposition to the monument from most San Juan County residents. The press conference and panel event articulating their support were held in conjunction with the semi-annual Outdoor Retailer trade show. However, these events were closed to much of the public, limiting the opportunity for genuine discussion. Therefore, Sutherland Institute takes this opportunity to encourage an elevated dialogue about the Bears Ears by asking some questions of outdoor retailers who are calling for monument:

  1. Why was a press conference about protecting the Bears Ears closed to San Juan County Native Americans opposed to the monument, who have lived on and cared for the Bears Ears for centuries?
  2. It was reported that protecting public lands generates economic benefits due to a stronger outdoor recreation industry. However, San Juan County currently contains all or part of one national park, three national monuments, a national recreation area and a national forest, and yet is the poorest county in Utah and one of the most economically depressed counties in the nation. Why have protected public lands and the outdoor recreation industry failed to bring prosperity to San Juan County, and how will another national monument change that?
  3. Industry leaders said that a national monument designation will attract high-paying employers and a talented work force. But Utah’s major outdoor retailers locate along the Wasatch Front, not San Juan County. Does this mean that a national monument will get rid of high-paying jobs from San Juan County (e.g., natural resource industry jobs) to create new high-paying jobs in relatively wealthier counties along the Wasatch Front, where outdoor retailers locate?
  4. National monuments in Utah, such as Grand Staircase-Escalante, have typically harmed the livelihoods of ranchers, natural resource industry employees, and others. Is there evidence that the economic benefits to the outdoor retail industry from a Bears Ears National Monument will be large enough to offset the likely economic harm to other economic sectors in the state?
  5. It was suggested that a national monument will do more to protect archaeological and historical sites in the Bears Ears than other available options, through additional financial and law-enforcement resources. However, federal land management agencies are strapped for cash and already have a deferred maintenance backlog of almost $18 billion. How will a national monument better protect the cultural resources in the Bears Ears when the federal government cannot even afford to care for the public lands it already controls?
  6. Everyone on both sides praises the unmatched beauty and amazing recreational opportunities the Bears Ears area provides. But these wonders are still available to us in large part because of how the local residents have taken care of the land, going back to times long before it was federally managed. What is it about today’s Native American and non-Native American residents of San Juan County that makes them incapable of caring for the public lands that create their livelihoods and their cultural heritage?
  7. The products sold by outdoor retailers allow individuals to access cliff dwellings and other archaeological sites inaccessible to most of the public. How is the outdoor retail industry promoting the kind of responsible recreation and education that will be necessary to protect Native American sites, especially when a national monument leads to more recreationists visiting the area?
  8. The management of other national monuments, such as Canyon de Chelly and Grand Staircase-Escalante, has shown that (despite assurances to the contrary before a monument has been designated) greater federal “protection” of public lands often restricts active use of the land over time – including recreation, grazing, and Native American access. What legal or other processes are there to guarantee that recreationists, Native Americans and ranchers will not lose their access to the Bears Ears and surrounding areas due to federal land management decisions that go against the spirit, if not the letter, of a national monument designation?
  9. Reports have come out that our national parks and monuments are seeing more visitors than ever, suggesting that a Bears Ears National Monument will bring many more people to the area, thereby intensifying the risk of “loving our lands to death.” What specific policy or legal measures exist to assure recreationists, conservationists and Native Americans that this will not happen in the Bears Ears?
  10. The people of San Juan County have made it clear that they don’t want big business colluding with the federal government to threaten their quality of life by taking away the land that creates their homes and their livelihoods. How will a monument declaration address their concerns?
Bears Ears attendees

Are radical environmentalists trying to dupe Sec. Jewell?

On Saturday, thousands gathered at the Bluff Community Center in Southeastern Utah to share their opinion on the proposed Bears Ears National Monument with Interior Secretary Sally Jewell and other visiting federal officials. As local San Juan County residents arrived, they were met by 100-degree temperatures, signs for and against the monument, and a large contingency of strangers wearing blue shirts. When I asked a local Navajo who these people were, she said, “I know a few of them, but I’ve never seen most in my life.”

Video footage and audio statements from monument supporters appear to show that the Sierra Club and other extreme environmental groups bused large groups in from all across the West in an apparent attempt to hijack the meeting and drown out local voices. One of the bus drivers revealed that “seven or eight buses” brought in monument supporters from 11 locations as far away as New Mexico, Arizona, and Colorado.

A monument supporter said, “This is a coalition of the Wilderness Society, Sierra Club, Wilderness Alliance. They brought in a bus from Flagstaff, from Durango, from Moab.”

What Sec. Jewell promised would be a community meeting intended to “learn from and listen to locals” was, instead, undermined by outsiders.

When given a chance to speak, the majority of San Juan County residents opposed the monument. However, comments made by out-of-staters could have given visiting officials the impression that the county is split on the issue because commenters were not required to provide their names or where they were from.

Under this anonymity, many monument supporters focused their comments on outdoor recreation and its importance in their lives. This was in stark contrast to locals who expressed fears over a monument prohibiting them from gathering wood to heat their homes in the winter, pushing cattle and ranching families off the range, and economically devastating their county. Monument advocates seemed to brush these concerns aside as they elevated their desire to hike, mountain bike and rock climb over the basic needs of San Juan County residents.

Once the meeting ended, the blue shirts filed one by one back onto the buses and made the long trek home. For them, their job was done and they could move on with their lives. But for locals, who are reliant on the land, they have to live with the decisions made by Sec. Jewell (who enthusiastically expressed a desire to vacation in the area) and the Obama administration. Southeastern Utah isn’t a vacation spot for local residents. It’s their home, their heritage and a place where their families have lived for generations.

Secretary Jewell, you came to Utah seeking local input. Unfortunately, what you saw and heard was theater staged by radical environmentalist outsiders intent on smothering local voices. This wasn’t local grassroots. This was astroturf.

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Utah commission passes resolution opposing unilateral use of the Antiquities Act

On Wednesday, the Utah Legislature’s Commission on the Stewardship of Public Lands adopted a resolution opposing the unilateral use of the Antiquities Act to designate new national monuments. The Obama administration is considering a number of national monument designations in the state this year – including a 1.9-million-acre designation in the Bears Ears area of southeastern Utah. The overarching message of the resolution is that local input and state legislative approval should be required for future designations.

Utah’s natural beauty and pristine landscapes are unparalleled, drawing millions of visitors from around the world. Such wild and unique places should be responsibly protected. However, allowing the president unilaterally to set aside millions of acres with the stroke of a pen is un-American and undermines the democratic process. The resolution does not intend to impede the overall goal of conservation, but rather the method by which it is to be achieved. The commission recognizes that Utahns know and love their public lands better than anyone else and this resolution is intended to declare to the Obama administration that Utahns want to have a voice in decisions regarding monument designations within the state.

The resolution is one of two items Gov. Gary Herbert has specified to be considered when the Legislature meets in a special session that will be convened in conjunction with its regularly scheduled interim meetings on May 18.

Sutherland Institute and the Coalition for Self-Government in the West commend the commission for adopting the resolution.