Outdoor Insider Fall 2017 - Page 12

Utah’s Public Lands Initiative

The majority of the land in Utah is federally protected, a situation that many Utahns complain about bitterly. Others are proud of the conservation movement’s achieve-ments in protecting wild Utah. As the outdoor recreation community knows, Utah has some of the greatest public treasures in the form of national parks, such as Zion and Arches. The question of Utah’s monuments has been front and center in the news this year, with President Trump’s monuments review—book-ended by Grand Staircase Escalante, designated in 1996, and the Bears Ears Monument, in 2016.

In 2016, it appeared to many in Utah that meaningful legislative action on the issue of public lands management had finally arrived. The Utah Public Lands Initiative (PLI) was introduced after a few years of public input, including from Native American tribes in Utah and the Four Corners region. When the bill was introduced, however, the Ute Indian Tribe noticed that the PLI legislation would take more than 100,000 acres away from the Ute Tribe Reservation, and another 400,000 would be turned over to local government management—called “special manage-ment” zones in the PLI. In Utah, special management and local control often means land trades with the Utah School and Institutional Trust Land Management (SITLA), which auctions off public lands for money. This legislation would violate Indian sovereignty.

Of, by, and for the people—again

The lesson to be learned here is that public lands need public voices to protect them. Deep-pocketed funders wish to buy up public lands cheaply for their private exploits. Privatization remains the number-one threat to our nation’s precious public lands. Add to that the not-so-hidden attempts to take even more Indian/Native land away from tribes, through efforts to privatize oil and resource-rich parcels of land in Indian Country, and you have the perfect formula for public land and Indian land theft. A new paradigm of protection, stewardship, and wise economics is well overdue.

With the momentum built by the recent activation of so many new citizen activists, the time is ripe for making profound change. The need for a deep change in public lands protection can be combined with the need for a new generation of public works programs as well. Paradigm shifts generally turn out to be package deals.

A recent book by historian Douglas Brinkley, Rightful Heritage: Franklin D. Roosevelt and the Land of America, documents the paradigm shift that occurred in the 1930s—one that married industrial infrastructure with conservation, and economic rights with Native American rights, for the first time. The Civil Works Administration, the Civil Conservation Corps, the Works Progress Administration, and the Indian New Deal of 1934 remain legacies of American achievement that stand the test of time. There was even a “CCC Indian Division” that honored the specific heritage and needs of tribes during the Depression. These programs have their critics, but they nevertheless remain a case study for today—a time when the rise of monopolizing privatizers threatens the public trust like never before. To paraphrase a combination of Woodie Guthrie’s famous song and Benjamin Franklin’s famous quote when he exited the Constitutional Convention in 1787: this land is your land, this land is our land . . . if we can keep it.

Robert Lucero is the founder and director of the Indian Lands and Public Lands Alliance (www.ilpla.org). This article reflects the views of the author and not necessarily those of the Association of Outdoor Recreation and Education. Feedback about this article may be addressed to Outdoor Insider Editor Allison Burtka at aburtka@aore.org.