Study Underway About Transfer of Federal Lands to Utah | Deseret News

By Morgan Jacobsen

May 21, 2014

“SALT LAKE CITY — A Utah legislative interim committee met Wednesday to examine the progress of an economic analysis concerning the prospect of transferring federal lands into state ownership.

HB142, which was signed by Gov. Gary Herbert on April 1, calls for a study to inventory public lands within Utah and to analyze the opportunities and challenges that a public lands transfer would bring for agencies within the state should such a transfer occur.

Kathleen Clarke, director of the Public Lands Policy Coordination Office, discussed the ongoing analysis with members of the Natural Resources, Agriculture, and Environment Interim Committee.”

Read full story | Deseret News

Deal Reached to Halt Endangered Listing for Utah Flowers | The Salt Lake Tribune

By Brian Maffly

May 6, 2014

“The long-awaited decision on whether to protect two rare desert flowers could hinge on a proposed deal federal authorities have reached with state and Uintah County officials.

Occurring only in the Uinta Basin, the Graham’s and White River beardtongue species of penstemon grow on oil shale outcroppings, so some fear a listing under the Endangered Species Act could stymie Utah’s nascent oil shale industry.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) on Monday released a draft conservation agreement, which identifies federal and state lands where surface-disturbing activities would be severely limited. The idea is to preserve core areas and demonstrate that beardtongue does not warrant listing, according to John Harja of the state Public Lands Policy Coordination Office.

The areas “will be refuges for the plants,” he said. “We did this for the purpose of addressing the threats.””

Read full story | The Salt Lake Tribune

Special Report to Western Governors: Inventory of Sage Grouse Conservation Initiatives

Inventory of State and Local Governments’ Conservation Initiatives for Sage-Grouse

Special Report to Western Governors, Western Governors’ Association

2013 Update, February 20, 2014

WGA 2013 Sage Grouse Inventory Feb 20_Cover

About This Inventory

The greater sage-grouse needs large expanses of land for the stages of its lifecycle. Sagebrush, key habitat for the species, is found throughout 11 of the Western Governors’ Association (WGA) member states. But today, evidence shows greater sage-grouse now occupy just 56% of their historic range.

In 2010 the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) listed the greater sage-grouse as “warranted but precluded” under the Endangered Species Act, meaning that the species deserves federal protections but that FWS does not have the resources to support those measures.
Western Governors and former Interior Secretary Ken Salazar formed the State-Federal Sage-Grouse Task Force (SGTF) in 2012 to implement high priority conservation actions and integrate ongoing efforts necessary to preclude the need for fully listing the sage-grouse. If fully listed, the economic impacts to states with sage-grouse habitat could be significant.
Since then Western states, through the WGA and Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies (WAFWA), have worked collaboratively to address challenges facing sage-grouse and their habitat. With the passage of WGA Policy Resolution 11-09 (Sage-Grouse and Sagebrush Conservation), Western Governors demonstrated support for all reasonable management efforts necessary to avoid a threatened or endangered listing of the species.

At the Governors’ request – and as a resource for FWS and the public – WGA and WAFWA created the first annual inventory in 2011 to illustrate how states and counties were taking proactive, voluntary steps to preclude the need to put the greater sage-grouse and Gunnison sage-grouse on the federal endangered species list.

Since that initial report, a second WGA inventory of sage-grouse conservation initiatives was released for 2012. This third WGA report highlights new sage-grouse conservation activities in 2013, along with an appendix that contains all initiatives reported by the relevant states and counties between 2011 and 2013.

Download full report | Western Governors’ Association

Download Appendix to report | Western Governors’ Association

BYU Law Review on H.B. 148 – The Transfer of Public Lands

By Donald J. Kochan

PUBLIC LANDS AND THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT’S COMPACT-BASED “DUTY TO
DISPOSE”: A CASE STUDY OF UTAH’S H.B. 148−THE TRANSFER OF PUBLIC LANDS ACT

2013 B.Y.U. L. Rev. 1133

Abstract

Recent legislation passed in March 2012 in the State of Utah–the “Transfer of Public Lands Act and Related Study,” (“TPLA”) also commonly referred to as House Bill 148 (“H.B. 148”)–has demanded that the federal government, by December 31, 2014, “extinguish title” to certain public lands that the federal government currently holds (totaling an estimated more than 20 million acres). It also calls for the transfer of such acreage to the State and establishes procedures for the development of a management regime for this increased state portfolio of land holdings resulting from the transfer.

The State of Utah claims that the federal government made promises to it (at statehood when the federal government obtained the lands) that the federal ownership would be of limited duration and that the bulk of those lands would be timely disposed of by the federal government into private ownership or otherwise returned to the State. Longstanding precedents support the theory that Utah’s Enabling Act is a bilateral compact between the State and the federal government that should be treated like it is, and interpreted as, a binding contractual agreement.

Utah’s TPLA presents fascinating issues for the areas of public lands, natural resources, federalism, contracts, and constitutional law. It represents a new chapter in the long book of wrangling between states in the West and the federal government over natural resources and public lands ownership, control, and management. The impact is potentially considerable–thirty-one percent of our nation’s lands are owned by the federal government, and 63.9% of the lands in Utah are owned by the federal government.

This Article provides an overview of the legal arguments on both sides of the TPLA debate. In the end, there is a credible case that rules of construction favor an interpretation of the Utah Enabling Act that includes some form of a duty to dispose on the part of the federal government. At a minimum, the legal arguments in favor of the TPLA are serious and, if taken seriously, the TPLA presents an opportunity for further clarification of public lands law and the relationship between the states and the federal government regarding those lands. Moreover, other states are exploring similar avenues to assert their claims vis-à-vis the federal government and are in various stages of developing land transfer strategies that will model or learn from the TPLA. That fact further underscores the need for a renewed serious and informed legal discussion on the issues related to disposal obligations of the federal government. This Article takes a first step into that discussion.

Download full article | Copyright (c) 2013 Brigham Young University Law Review, Donald J. Kochan