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Utah’s federal land take-over plan stalls

Updated 1-6-15 with more info from the Associated Press.

PUBLIC LANDS — Do you get the feeling this federal land-grab frenzy is all about local politicians courting voters — while taxpayers pick up the tab?

Utah's deadline for federal handover of lands comes and goes
Last Wednesday was the deadline Utah set for the federal government to hand over an estimated 31 million acres of land to the state, but the Dec. 31 deadline passed with no such transfer and now Utah is contemplating its next move.

Meanwhile, in Idaho:

UI study estimates millions in costs to state for federal lands takeover

Here's more information on the story from the Associated Press:

Utah gears up for lands fight as deadline passes

By MICHELLE L. PRICE/Associated Press

SALT LAKE CITY  — A deadline Utah set for the federal government to hand over 31 million acres of public land quietly passed this week with no such transfer, something predicted by both critics and supporters of the state’s push for control.

Republican Ken Ivory, a state representative who spearheaded Utah’s push, said the passing of the Dec. 31 deadline shows that the federal government doesn’t seem willing to negotiate the issue.

“Like in any demand letter, you put a target date so you know where you stand,” Ivory said. Utah Republican leaders instead are laying the groundwork to push the issue in court, though it’s not clear when the state might file a lawsuit.

Critics say Utah has no legal claim to the land and it’s not surprising the federal government didn’t simply give up the land.

“It’s unfortunate that the Legislature and the governor are going to waste Utah taxpayer’s money chasing this pipe dream,” said Stephen Bloch, the legal director of the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance.

U.S. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell, whose department is in charge of about 46 percent of Utah’s land “has made it clear that it’s a waste of time and resources for Utah to debate” taking over the land, department spokesman Jessica Kershaw said Friday.

“Rather, she’s stated that a more constructive discussion should focus around how state and federal partners can work together on the thoughtful management of public lands,” she said.

Here’s a look at where Utah’s land demand stands going into 2015:


Utah passed a law in 2012 demanding the federal government give up about 31 million acres, about 50 percent of the state, by Dec. 31, 2014. Utah’s officials argue the state would be a better manager and local control would allow Utah to make money from taxes and development rights on those acres.

Much of the land Utah seeks is currently controlled by the federal Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service. National parks and monuments, military bases and wilderness areas are exempt from the demand.


Lawmakers are preparing for a potential lawsuit to push the issue in the next year or so. The Utah Legislature has set aside $2 million to prepare a legal fight for the state attorney general to pursue. A state public lands commission is in the process of hiring special lawyers to help them prepare strategies for a lawsuit.

Parker Douglas, the federal solicitor in the Utah attorney general’s office, said the office has started drafting a potential lawsuit, but there’s no timeline for pursing it. Douglas said the office is waiting to see what progress the state’s congressional delegation can make on the issue.


Ivory and other supporters of the land transfer say the state’s legal claim lies in the Utah Enabling Act, which led to Utah’s statehood in 1896. Critics have disputed that argument, and the Legislature’s own attorneys warned in 2012 that the demand and any attempt to enforce it would likely be found unconstitutional.

If Utah pursues a lawsuit, the state attorney general’s office has warned lawmakers they need to avoid flawed theories or inconsistent arguments used by western states in the 1970s and 1980s during a similar push known as the Sagebrush Rebellion.


Utah lawmakers have pointed to an 800-page report released in December as to how the state could afford to manage the land. The report, which cost $500,000, found that oil and gas leases would allow Utah to afford the $280 million annual cost of managing the land, but only if those prices remained high.

Economists warned that if oil prices remain low, as they are now, Utah would have to increase drilling, raise costs for drilling companies or find other ways to make money. The state would also be at the mercy of national and international changes that could cut demand, such as greenhouse gas regulations.

Ivory said Utah would find ways to cut land management costs while making money beyond just oil and gas. For example, Utah could cut the risk of large, expensive wildfires by opening forests to logging.

Democrats and environmental groups have said it’s a pie-in-the-sky scenario for all factors to align to make it sustainable or even profitable for Utah.


Montana, Wyoming and Nevada have passed resolutions or requested studies of the legal arguments and costs and benefits of the issue. Idaho passed a resolution in 2013 demanding the federal government hand over control of public land in that state, but a state committee studying the issue now says working with Washington, D.C., for a solution will work better than issuing a demand. The committee is set to issue a recommendation this month about how Idaho should pursue the land.


Inslee, other govs oppose oil drilling off coast

OLYMPIA — Gov. Jay Inslee joined counterparts from Oregon and California today in asking the federal government to ban any new oil and gas drilling off their coasts.

In a letter to Interior Secretary Sally Jewell, the three governors said they were strongly opposed to any new gas and oil lease sales, fearing the "devastating impact" a spill could have on commerce, tourism, recreation and local economies. The three states have also joined with British Columbia in an effort to fight climate change and promote clean energy, Inslee, California Gov. Jerry Brown and Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber said.

The governors are providing formal comment to the Interior Department's proposal for oil and gas leasing on the Outer Continental Shelf from 2017 through 2022.

National wildfire prevention, restoration initiative to include Boise River Basin

The U.S. secretaries of Agriculture and Interior were in Colorado today to launch the first of six pilot projects designed to protect the nation’s water supply from increased wildfire risk, and one of the projects is targeted for the Boise River drainage upstream of Boise. That’s where the destructive Trinity Ridge Fire in the Boise National Forest charred 220 square miles last summer; federal officials say increased erosion and sedimentation from the giant wildfire could affect Arrowrock Reservoir, Anderson Ranch Reservoir and more.

The Colorado project, announced at Horsetooth Reservoir outside Ft. Collins, is in the area affected by the destructive High Park Fire in June of 2012; plans there include forest thinning, prescribed fire and other forest health treatments to reduce wildfire risk; projects to reduce post-fire erosion and sedimentation; and restoration efforts on burned land including tree planting and other habitat improvement. Overall, the project, dubbed the Western Watershed Enhancement Partnership, also will include pilot projects in Arizona, California, Washington (Yakima Basin) and Montana (Horsethief Reservoir/Flathead River).

“In the West, more than 40 Reclamation dams and facilities are on or downstream from Forest Service lands where drier, hotter weather has exacerbated the risk of wildfire,” Interior Secretary Sally Jewell said in a statement. “This partnership can serve as a model for the West when it comes to collaborative and targeted fire threat reduction and restoration efforts to protect our critical water supplies.” Jewell and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said the initiative is part of President Obama’s Climate Action Plan; click below for a report on the announcement from the AP in Denver.

By the way, the photo above, taken by Chris Lee, shows windsurfer Jim Tighe sailing across Lucky Peak reservoir on the Boise River on Tuesday morning, as wildfire smoke rolled in from fires in the hills above.

New interior secretary reaches out to tribes

Here's a news item from the Associated Press: RENO, Nev. (AP) — Sally Jewell made an emotional pledge in her first address to Indian Country as the 51st U.S. Interior secretary, saying she'll help right past wrongs against Native Americans and work with tribes "nation-to-nation" to protect their sovereignty. Jewell fought back tears and paused to compose herself during remarks Thursday in Reno, Nev., to about 300 delegates of the National Congress of American Indians. The casino-ballroom audience gave her a standing ovation. The ex-outdoor retail executive from Seattle became secretary in April. She told delegates the U.S. government doesn't have a proud legacy when it comes to upholding promises to native people. She said she cannot "reverse all of that" in four years, but she is determined to make important progress and help tribes become more economically independent.

Click below for a full report from AP reporter Scott Sonner.

Interior Secretary Jewell keynotes Ducks Unlimited convention


PUBLIC LANDS — Interior Secretary Sally Jewell will speak at the annual  Ducks Unlimited convention this week during a visit to Portland in her first West Coast trip since she was sworn in last month.

Today Jewell and Portland Mayor Charlie Hales are set to announce nearly two dozen conservation projects to help boost youth employment, the Department of the Interior says.

On Friday, she, Gov. John Kitzhaber and a representative from Washington Gov. Jay Inslee will sign an agreement to speed the review and permitting of energy generation and power transmission projects in the Northwest.

Failing to understand the headline

Saw some reference yesterday to Jewel meeting with state and federal officials in Boise.

Big deal, I thought. Everyone is entitled to an opinion, but she's just a singer.

Of course, the story actually referred to the new secretary of the Interior, Sally Jewell.


With budget cuts hitting firefighting efforts, Jewell calls on folks to get ‘fire-wise’

Here’s a link to my full story at spokesman.com on today’s visit by the secretaries of the departments of Interior and Agriculture to NIFC, the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, where the two said sequestration and other federal budget cuts will hit hard just as a “difficult” fire season looms for the nation.

New Interior Secretary Sally Jewell called on citizens and communities to be “fire-wise” and take steps to protect their homes, particularly those in or near the woods or wildlands, from burning in a wildfire. “We as private citizens … play an important role,” she said, “especially in these areas where we want to live, have our cabins up in the mountains, and they are oftentimes in harm’s way.” Jewell said people need to create defensible space around homes or cabins, clear brush, trees and flammable materials, and help their neighbors do the same. “I really encourage you to do that,” she said.

This year’s fire season already has seen 13,000 fires start, but that’s actually a low number – the lowest in the last 10 years. That’s mainly because there’s been ample rain and snow across the eastern United States, limiting the fires that otherwise would normally have ignited by now in the Southeast.

But this year is expected to see above-normal risk in parts of the west, particularly the southwest, due to precipitation that’s run far below normal. Southern California has gotten only a quarter of its normal precipitation so far this year. NIFC officials said the wildfire season in West Coast states is expected to start a month earlier than normal this year as a result; fires already have been burning in southern California and even in southern Idaho.

Budget cuts hit as ‘difficult’ fire season looms

With a “difficult” fire season looming, firefighters are facing budget cuts that will result in 500 fewer firefighters for the Forest Service alone and 50 fewer engines available, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack said this morning in a visit to the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise. “We’re going to be faced obviously with a difficult fire season, make no mistake about that,” he said. “The resources are limited. Our budgets have obviously been constrained.”

Other agencies also are facing cuts. New Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell, who toured NIFC yesterday and today, said, “We will fight the fires and we will do them safely, but the resources will go to suppression, which is not ideal. … What you’re not doing is putting the resources in place to thoughtfully manage the landscapes for the future.” That means things like replanting and efforts to reduce hazardous fuels will suffer. “If we have a really tough season, we … may bring in more contract resources,” Jewell said. “We’ll have to take it out of other parts of our budget which are also struggling. We may be making decisions in the short run to take care of fires but in the long run not setting ourselves up for success.”

Sen. Jim Risch, R-Idaho, said if catastrophic fires are burning in August and sufficient resources aren’t available, he believes Congress would come through with emergency funding. Vilsack responded with a chuckle, “You get that down? Can you send that to me?

Vilsack said in addition to the 5 percent sequestration cut that the Forest Service and the Department of Agriculture took, “Congress added on that another 2 percent.” Making those cuts this far into the fiscal year, he said, means they cut “in essence 15 percent of your remaining money.”

Interior Secretary Jewell leads reporter to fresh air for interview

PUBLIC LANDS — Sally Jewell puts her best foot forward….

Interior Secretary Sally Jewell hits the trail in her new role

New York Times Reporter John M. Broder recently joined recently confirmed Interior Secretary Sally Jewell on a hike in order to talk about her new role of managing public lands.

Interior serves as steward for approximately 20 percent of the nation’s lands, including national parks, national wildlife refuges, and other public lands; oversees the responsible development of conventional and renewable energy supplies on public lands and waters; is the largest supplier and manager of water in the 17 Western states; and upholds trust responsibilities to the 566 federally recognized American Indian tribes and Alaska Natives.

Jewell is no stranger to the mountains, as you can see in the 2010 photo (above) taken as she was climbing Mount Rainier.

Obama nominates REI’s CEO for Secretary of Interior

PUBLIC LANDS — Sally Jewell, Recreational Equipment Inc. Chief Executive Sally Jewell is being nominated by President Obama to lead the Interior Department in his second term.

Jewell, 56, has served as the Washington-state-based outdoor retailer's CEO since 2005. She started her career as a petroleum engineer working in the oil fields of Oklahoma and Colorado for Mobil Oil Corp. She then moved to the banking industry, before joining the REI board in 1996 and becoming chief operations officer four years later.

She has been credited with expanding the Washington state-based retailer's Internet operations and contributing company resources to environmental stewardship.

Jewell was on the Avista Corp. board of directors from May 1997 through May 2003.

If confirmed by the Senate, she will replace current Secretary Ken Salazar, who plans to step down to return to Colorado.


-Tim Wigley, president, Western Energy Alliance, which represents the oil and natural gas industry in the West.

Her experience as a petroleum engineer and business leader will bring a unique perspective to an office that is key to our nation's energy portfolio.

-Chris Wood, president and CEO, Trout Unlimited

Sally Jewell would make a great Secretary of Interior. Her background suggests that she would bring needed balance to energy development on public lands. Her stewardship of REI demonstrates that she understands the interests of anglers and hunters and would serve as an aggressive advocate within the White House for protecting fish and game habitat and hunting and angling opportunity. She is a practical, no-nonsense leader who would bring a sense of purpose to implementing the oil and gas reforms that have remained largely on the shelf. She is a strong pick.

-Sen. Patty Murray:

President Obama has chosen an accomplished leader as the next Secretary of Interior. I have enjoyed a strong working relationship with Sally Jewell, who has proven to be an effective CEO in the business community, and will bring that skill set to the Cabinet. She understands the tremendous asset that our public lands are, particularly to the multi-billion dollar outdoor recreation based economy. Additionally, American families could have no greater advocate for their continued use, enjoyment and protection of our National Parks and natural treasures. I look forward to working with Sally and President Obama as they shape and implement policies at the Department of Interior.

 -Jim Lyon, National Wildlife Federation senior vice president for conservation programs:

        Sally Jewell is a business leader who knows that conserving America’s natural resources is fundamentally linked to a healthy and strong economy. Outdoor recreation contributes $730 billion to America’s economy and delivers $49 billion in tax revenue annually, but faces a critical challenge as Washington considers even more cuts to conservation programs on top of steep cuts already made. Hunters, anglers, hikers, kayakers, bird watchers and all who value and cherish the outdoors and wildlife will benefit from her first hand understanding of Americans’ passion for protecting our natural treasures.

-Mike Nussman, American Sportfishing Association president and CEO:

From an industry perspective, Sally Jewell understands the important role that our public waters and lands have in supporting the nation’s $646 billion outdoor recreation economy. Given its responsibility for managing approximately one-fifth of the nation’s lands and waters, the Department of the Interior has a significant role in providing recreational fishing opportunities and conserving the nation’s fisheries resources.