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Public lands: what’s at stake in Trump administration

The "Moonhouse" in McLoyd Canyon, near Blanding, Utah. (Rick Bowmer / Associated Press)

PUBLIC LANDS -- President-elect Trump has been sending mixed signals on how his policies will treat treasured public lands. His son, Donald Trump Jr.,  said the Trump administration will be a good steward.  But  some Republicans are champing at the bit to seize federal public lands and turn them over to states or private interests. This will cast a particularly intense spotlight on Rep. Ryan Zinke, R-Montana, Trump's choice to serve as his Interior secretary.

Here's a brief outline from Utah-based Associated Press writers of issues to watch in the coming months.

Things to know about federal land polices under Trump

Advocates for more state control of public lands and fewer government regulations on energy development hope Donald Trump will be more receptive to their cause, which they say has been ignored during President Barack Obama’s two terms. A look at some key questions:


Decisions about what activities are allowed on hundreds of millions of acres of federal land, more than half of them concentrated in 12 Western states. The landscape includes expansive deserts, snow-capped mountains and red rock canyons. The lands are treasured by outdoor enthusiasts and vital to cattle ranchers, oil companies and loggers. States such as Alaska, Idaho, Nevada and Utah, where federal lands account for the majority of their territories, have long complained that regulatory agencies pay too little heed to residents’ needs.


Efforts to wrest control from the federal government are being waged in state legislatures and Congress and might wind up in court.

Dozens of demands for land handovers have surfaced in the West in recent years, with Utah pushing hardest. A law it enacted four years ago demanded that the federal government relinquish control of public lands in Utah by 2014. The deadline passed with no action, and the state has since spent about $2 million on outside attorneys to prepare a longshot lawsuit. Utah’s GOP-controlled Legislature wants to proceed, but the state attorney general has yet to agree.


Supporters, mostly Republicans, say Washington-imposed limits on use of natural resources deprive Western states of growth, jobs and tax revenue, a burden not shared by Eastern states where the federal government owns much less property. They argue the federal government is a poor manager, citing overgrown forests ripe for catastrophic wildfires. They contend states can balance conservation with energy exploration to protect outdoor recreation while stimulating local economies.


Opponents fear states would sell off lands that belong to all Americans and allow oil drilling, mining and clear-cut logging, ruining cherished landscapes. They consider federal land managers even-handed protectors of valuable cultural and natural resources. They say state control would limit access for hunting, fishing and other recreation while splintering wildlife habitat. In a warning of what could happen without federal protection, the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance ran TV ads this year with altered pictures of oil derricks near the state’s iconic red rock lands.


Trump’s stance is murky. He has pledged to honor Theodore Roosevelt’s conservation legacy. But he also promises to “unleash” energy production on federal property. Trump told Field & Stream magazine in January that he opposed transferring ownership to states because states might sell the land. But that same month, he wrote a guest newspaper column in Nevada endorsing state control, which the GOP platform supports, and vilifying “faceless, nameless bureaucrats” in federal management agencies.

Trump has offered the job of interior secretary to Rep. Ryan Zinke of Montana, who has not said whether he will accept. Zinke has been critical of federal land management and wants more development of coal, oil and natural gas. But he’s an outspoken supporter of keeping the lands in federal hands and resigned as a GOP convention delegate over the platform’s opposition.

Rich Landers
Rich Landers joined The Spokesman-Review in 1977. He is the Outdoors editor for the Sports Department writing and photographing stories about hiking, hunting, fishing, boating, conservation, nature and wildlife and related topics.

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