Public lands coalition plans to 'Take Back Utah'
Call it Sagebrush Rebellion Two.
Representatives from a variety of groups met Monday to plan the "Take Back Utah" Rally, a protest over federal rules, regulations, policies, laws and practices that critics say unfairly strip Utahns of their rights of access to public lands.
While dormant for several years, the Utah Public Lands Multiple Use Coalition has been reinvigorated by necessity driven by dismay over several key decisions made by newly-named Interior Secretary Ken Salazar.
Salazar earlier this year rescinded 77 parcels of BLM land that had been bid on for possible oil and gas development and also yanked from consideration multiple parcels up for oil shale research and development.
The decisions dismayed some Utah conservatives, bewildered Utah public land managers and were criticized by potential developers as the spectre of even more restrictive land-use practices to come.
"I really believe the federal government has lost its way," said Rep. Mike Noel, R-Kanab, who had a seat at Monday's planning meeting. "It's critical we have our voices heard with so much of our land locked up in a management system full of roadblocks, additional bureaucracy and impediments to prudent development policies."
Coalition member groups include the Utah Farm Bureau Federation, the Utah Wool Growers Association, the Utah Shared Access Alliance and the Utah Rural Electric Association.
Randy Parker, the farm bureau's chief executive officer, said the ultimate goal of the coalition is to ensure greater self determination for Utah.
"Utah is at a disadvantage because so much of our land is controlled by the federal government. We are subject to the political whims of the (presidential) administration and Congress."
Organizers say they expect 10,000-plus attendees at the Aug. 8 event, planned to begin at 500 South and end at the Capitol. They're hopeful even more people will show up.
"I am 100 percent convinced that groups like the SUWA (the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance) the Sierra Club and Wilderness Society are a very small, heavily funded minority interest in the state of Utah," Noel said, adding he believes the majority of Utahns desire responsible access.
The group, so far, has the ear of Lt. Gov. Gary Herbert, who attended the planning session and said there are "common sense" middle-ground solutions that balance environmental interests with responsible development.
"These are not mutually exclusive," he said.
Herbert also told the group that despite Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr.'s views on climate change and other environmental issues, the Utah governor possesses the political savvy to broker change.