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Utah’s Enabling Act

June 4, 2012

On July 16, 1894, Congress enacted Utah’s Enabling Act which set forth the conditions on which Utah could become a state. Section 4 states, “…the proposed State of Utah shall be deemed admitted by Congress into the Union, under and by virtue of this act, on an equal footing with the original States….”  Section 6 provides, “That upon the admission of said State into the Union, sections numbered two, sixteen, thirty-two, and thirty-six in every township of said proposed State, . . . are hereby granted to said State for the support of commons schools….”

In accordance with the federal policy to provide clear title to unappropriated lands so they could be sold, under Section 3 of Utah’s Enabling Act, Utah agreed to the same solemn compacts as states preceding in statehood to disclaim title to public land, that “until the title to unappropriated public lands lying within the state’s boundaries shall have been extinguished by the United States, the same shall be and remain subject to the disposition of the United States”.

Shortly following Utah’s statehood, however, the federal government moved away from its promises by shifting to a policy of retention. The result was the establishment of the Bureau of Reclamation in 1902, the first federal wildlife refuge in 1903, the U.S. Forest Service in 1905, and the National Park Service in 1916. In 1905, the National Forest Service was created by combining the General Land Office (the agency created for the purpose of disposing of the public land) and the Division of Forestry. In 1906 and 1907, President Roosevelt more than doubled the acreage of forest reserve.

This shift of policy was not lost on the Utah Legislature. In its 1915 Session, the Legislature urged the federal government to return to its disposal policy. Federal policy was not reversed. Rather, the policies of conservation and control were expanded over time. The move away from disposal of the public lands, and toward a policy of retention and preservation, culminated in the 1976 passage by Congress of the Federal Land Policy and Management Act (“FLPMA”). The Act declared that, “it is the policy of the United States that the public lands be retained in Federal ownership, unless . . . it is determined that disposal of a particular parcel will serve the national interest.”

Since in passage of FLPMA, the state and federal partnership of public lands management has been eroded by an oppressive and over-reaching federal management agenda that has adversely impacted the sovereignty and the economies of the state of Utah and local governments. Land policy decisions have now moved from economic to ecological goals. Ecosystem management of public lands is the new federal management policy.

The federal government has engaged in a persistent pattern and course of conduct in direct violation of the letter and spirit of FLPMA through an abject disregard of local resource management plans, failure and refusal to coordinate and cooperate consistently with the state and local governments, unilateral and oppressive land control edicts to the severe and extreme detriment of the state and its ability to adequately fund education, provide essential government services and secure economic opportunities for wage earners and Utah business.

Utah could not have contemplated for the United States failing or refusing to abide by its solemn promise to extinguish title to all lands within its defined boundaries within a reasonable time. As a result, the state has been deprived of a Permanent Fund for its Common Schools has not realized the bargained-for benefit of the deployment, taxation, or economic benefit of all the lands within its defined boundaries.

For 116 years, the federal government has failed to honor its promise to timely extinguish title to public lands thereby breaching Utah’s Enabling Act and the spirit and letter of FLPMA.

The State of Utah is willing to sponsor, evaluate, and advance the locally driven efforts in more efficient manner than the federal government, to the benefit of all users, including access to open space, recreation, conservation, tourism, agriculture, grazing and responsible development of our State’s natural resources.

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From → 2012 Interim

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