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Utah’s Federal Court Fight Could Affect Public Land in Every State

A couple of Utah public lands have been involved in a tennis match between the federal government and Utah’s elected officials.

However, this back-and-forth battle could impact the future of public lands in Utah and the 49 other states in the country.

So what’s the fuss all about when it comes to these public lands? Let’s find out.

What Fight Are Utah Leaders Fighting for Public Lands?

The fight between Utah’s elected officials and the federal government involves two public lands, Grand Staircase-Escalante and Bears Ears national monuments. Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama created the two national monuments under the Antiquities Act. 

However, in 2017, President Donald Trump drastically reduced the size of these public lands, which resulted in less protection for the areas.

The tennis match continued with President Joe Biden reinstating the pre-Trump era boundary limits for the parks. The Native American tribes in the area celebrated the signing and protection of the land. 

On the other hand, not all of Utah’s elected leadership celebrated the reinstatement of the borders. Almost immediately, murmurs began of a possible lawsuit between the State of Utah and the federal government.

Why Is Utah Suing the Federal Government?

Utah’s officials are suing the federal government for control of the land at the state level. In an official statement, the legal delegation said, “The vast size of the expanded Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments draws unmanageable visitation levels to these lands without providing any of the tools necessary to adequately conserve and protect these resources.” 

State officials feel the state needs more funds to protect the lands, which the federal government won’t provide. The tribal people and the federal government think the land designation offers more promise for preserving the land than trusting it in the state’s hands.

What Is the Antiquities Act of 1906?

President Theodore Roosevelt signed the Antiquities Act of 1906 to protect lands with cultural and natural resources or scientific importance. The act originally responded to help protect sites from theft and archaeological sites. The Congressional Research Service states, “The act was designed to protect federal lands and resources quickly.”

Since its signing, presidents have used the Antiquities Act to proclaim 158 different national monuments. They’ve also made several shifts to national monuments by changing the terms of monuments proclaimed by previous administrations. The Antiquities Act of 1906 allows lands to receive the necessary protections as quickly as possible.

How Could This Fight Affect Public Lands?

You may not live in Utah, but the battle between Utah and the federal government could significantly impact the future of public lands in your state. 

If Utah wins the fight against the federal government, it could completely undermine the structure and purpose of the Antiquities Act of 1906. This would likely create instability regarding public lands and states fighting to regain control from the federal government.

There’s no secret that some states are better than others at doing what’s best to protect the land. However, others have a history of turning a blind eye to the misuse of land if it pads their bank account or helps them win another few years in office. 

Where you live and who you elect to office will likely determine how this fight will affect the public lands where you live. 

How Do Utahns Feel About the Lawsuit?

Like most political decisions, the Utah population has a pretty clear divide. Many feel that Utah’s Governor, Spencer Cox, simply wants to stand up for former President Trump’s decision. 

They feel that Governor Cox is wasting the $5 million they have budgeted for this fight. Utahns feel he wants to defend the decision of President Trump, who won the majority vote in Utah in 2020.

Standing up for his decision would likely sit well with the general population and help ensure a positive outlook for most voters.

On the other side, many Utahns feel the federal protections offer the land more protection than the state could provide. They fear the unknown possibilities of the land use in the hands of the state.

Many tribal members encouraged President Biden to protect the land and feel happy with how things are currently.

Should You Be Worried About Your Public lands?

In general, there’s no broad attack on public lands and taking back control from the federal government. We’re not likely to see a major overthrow of the federal government’s control anytime soon. Don’t expect national parks or other public lands to return to state ownership either. 

However, always do your part to research those running for local elections and vote. Participating in these civil duties can help maintain the lands you love and make a difference. 

But we advise you to continue enjoying public lands responsibly. Turn off the news and get out in nature. Fill your lungs with fresh air and the sounds of nature. 

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