Legislative Pulse: State Rep. Ivory Fights for Utah’s Public Lands

Published December 4, 2015

Editor’s Note: Third-term Utah state Rep. Ken Ivory (R-West Jordan) serves on 10 committees, including the Natural Resources, Agriculture, and Environmental Quality Appropriations Subcommittee and the Commission for the Stewardship of Public Lands. Ivory serves as co-chair of the Commission on Federalism and chairs of the Federal Funds Commission, which was established to reduce Utah’s dependence on federal funds. 

Burnett: In addition to being a legislator, you serve as president of the American Lands Council, often called the ALC. What is the ALC? 

Ivory: The American Lands Council is the leading national force behind freeing up the nearly 50 percent of all lands west of the Rockies under federal control today. The ALC was formed by a number of county commissioners and local leaders in response to the Transfer of Public Lands Act (HB 148 2012) I passed, which the governor signed into law, to begin the process of freeing up these lands for more effective, local care and management.

Distant, unaccountable control by federal bureaucrats thousands of miles away is wreaking havoc on the air, water, and wildlife and the health and safety of Western communities, [as well as] blocking off and burning up choice recreational opportunities all around the West.

For example, elite Montana firefighting crews were ordered to stand down by the U.S. Forest Service and watch thousands of acres burn, air be polluted, and animals killed, because their specially equipped helicopters, which are faster and carry more water than federal equipment in the region, were not on the USFS “approved list.”

Burnett: You’ve worked to give Utah more control over the federal lands within its borders. What are the advantages of state-level authority?

Ivory: We all want healthy air, water, and wildlife; safe and vibrant communities; and abundant recreation. But we’ve been told for decades in order to achieve this, our lands must be managed by federal bureaucrats thousands of miles away who manage our lands like they are in a museum.

This one-size-fits-all bureaucratic solution is really the problem, resulting in overgrown forests filled with dead and dying trees all over the West, resulting in millions of acres of forest going up in smoke every year, polluting water supplies and destroying wildlife habitat, while incinerating millions of animals.

Instead of federal bureaucratic “museum management,” we need to free these lands so they can be tended more like a garden by those who know the lands, the soil, the climate, the pests and diseases, and are on hand to deal with unavoidable circumstances in real time.

For example, scientists from the University of California at Merced recently concluded if the federally managed forests in the Sierra Nevada mountains were tended more like a garden and harvested to the sustainable tree density rather than being left in the present overgrown and catastrophic condition, it would conserve substantially more than a quarter-trillion gallons of water a year in drought-stricken California, produce a healthier forest, and increase funding for local government services like education and public safety.

Significantly, Canada discovered centralized management of the unique lands and resources in its provinces and territories was not working. The Canadian central government and the provinces and territories worked together in good faith as partners and transferred management of land, water, and resources in an orderly fashion to the provinces and territories over the past decade. As a result, they are experiencing better outcomes, both economically and environmentally. 

Burnett: States are being buffeted by an array of new regulations and restrictions imposed by the federal government. What can states do in response? 

Ivory: American Founding Father John Dickinson warned, “The government of each state is, and is to be, sovereign and supreme in all matters that relate to each state only, and subordinate barely in those matters that relate to the whole, and it will be their own faults if the several states suffer the federal sovereignty to interfere in the things of their respective jurisdictions.”

Governors, attorneys general, and state and local leaders around the nation should take a lesson from Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) in his recent handling of the federal Bureau of Land Management’s attempts to seize control of approximately 90,000 acres in the Red River Valley on the border between Texas and Oklahoma. Gov. Abbott recited under the Constitution of the United States all governments exist to secure to the people their inalienable rights, such as property and self-government. He warned the BLM he is constitutionally duty-bound to stand firmly with his citizens to secure to them these rights even against—perhaps especially against— the federal government.

We are seeing massive federal overreach into nearly every aspect of Americans’ daily lives, primarily because state and local leaders often lack the courage borne [out] of deeply rooted knowledge regarding the unique genius of our system of government. The framers [of the United States] intentionally established a jurisdictional line between the powers constitutionally delegated to the national government with all other powers reserved to the states and to the people. However, rights that neither our leaders nor we know we have or exercise are no better than rights we don’t have.

It is time for state leaders to stand and secure the rights of their people rather than shirk and shrink from this constitutional duty.

H. Sterling Burnett, Ph.D. ([email protected]) is a research fellow with The Heartland Institute.