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Not Owned By Everyone

September 24, 2012

Despite what you may have heard, the federal lands in Utah were never intended to “belong to everyone.” In fact, it is somewhat of an accident that the U.S. Government is still holding lands in this great state. Shortly after the U.S. Constitution was ratified, the Northwest Ordinance was passed by Congress. It was intended to dispose of the lands held by the government after state claims were conceded in Michigan, Wisconsin, Ohio, Illinois, and Indiana.

Congress passed the Morrell Act in 1862, which granted 40-acre parcels to homesteaders. Congress also gave away large chunks of real estate to railroad companies who were working to complete a transcontinental system. The government intentionally included mineral- and timber-rich lands, so that the railroads could sell off the property to finance their operations.

Unbeknownst at the time, however, was the fact that a lot of the territory in the west was not suitable for homesteading due to terrain or access to water. Most of the property retained by the federal government (more than 620 million acres) was unclaimed – because nobody wanted it. Eventually, President Theodore Roosevelt set aside some of the leftover land for forest preservation, and other interests.

There are five National Parks within the state of Utah: Zion National Park near Springdale, Bryce Canyon National Park near Tropic, Capitol Reef National Park and near Torrey, Arches National Park near Moab, and Canyonlands National Park near Moab.

There are seven National Monuments in Utah: Cedar Breaks National Monument near Cedar City, Dinosaur National Monument near Vernal, Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument near Kanab, Hovenweep National Monument near Bluff, Natural Bridges National Monument near Mexican Hat, Rainbow Bridge National Monument near Page, Arizona, Timpanogos Cave National Monument near Highland.

There are two National Recreation Areas within the state of Utah: Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, located in Kane, San Juan, and Garfield counties, and Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area in Daggett County.

There is one National Historic Sites in Utah: Golden Spike, near Brigham City.

There are six National Forests within the state of Utah including, Ashley National Forest, Dixie National Forest, Fishlake National Forest, Manti La Sal National Forest, Sawtooth National Forest, and Uinta-Wasatch Cache National Forest.

There are 583 miles of National Historic Trails in Utah, including the Pony Express National Historic Trail through northern Utah.

There are also 31 National Wilderness Areas within the state, two National Conservation Areas, 18 federally designated National Recreation Trails, and 8 federally designated National Scenic Byways.

After those reserves were set aside, the Department of Interior was left with millions of acres in the western states. President Herbert Hoover proposed to deed these lands to the states in 1932, but some of the states objected because the property had been mismanaged by the government with overgrazing and other problems. They were trying to protect Depression-era, cash-strapped budgets.

Due to this historical hiccup, the federal government owns a great deal of land in ten states west of the Mississippi. So while the Feds own less than one percent of Connecticut, Rhode Island, Iowa and New York, they own over 50 percent of Nevada, Utah, Alaska, Idaho and Oregon.

In 1976, Congress enacted the Federal Land Policy and Management Act (Pub.L. 94-579) (“FLPMA”). See http://www.blm.gov/flpma/FLPMA.pdf and http://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/43/chapter-35. With FLPMA, Congress declared that the leftover lands would remain in public ownership. Congress wanted “management of the public lands and their various resource values so that they are utilized in the combination that will best meet the present and future needs of the American people.” The National Forest Service, National Park Service, and the Bureau of Land Management were commissioned in FLPMA to allow a variety of uses while preserving the natural resources in them. FLPMA addresses topics such as land use planning, land acquisition, fees and payments, administration of federal land, range management, and right-of-ways on federal land. FLPMA has specific objectives and time frames in which to accomplish these objectives, giving it more authority and eliminating the uncertainty surrounding the BLM’s role in wilderness designation and management.

FLPMA also gave the BLM the power to designate “wilderness areas”. Today, over 8.8 million acres of BLM wilderness are currently included in the National Wilderness Preservation System as a result of the wilderness reviews mandated by FLPMA.

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From → 2012 Interim

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