I don’t pay much attention to our state’s lawmakers. By and large they concern themselves with petty moral issues and ignore big ticket challenges such as education. Our governor, who inherited his job when Jon Huntsman, Jr., took an ambassadorship to China, is an average Joe whose lackluster image and Utah County roots may not have gotten him elected to the state’s top post without a stint as Lt. Governor.
Be that as it may, Gov. Gary Herbert really stepped up to the plate last week to get our state’s five big national parks opened as the D.C. stalemate dragged on. By guaranteeing to loan our federal fathers $1.7 million to operate Canyonlands, Arches, Bryce, Zion, Capitol Reef and three national monuments, the public again had access to their parks after 10 days of being locked out.
Utah led the way by opening the national parks in our state, in step with similar efforts in Arizona, Colorado and South Dakota. The money helped to put some park rangers and other government employees back to work, thereby supplementing the efforts of the skeleton crews of federal workers who had been working just to keep the gates closed.
Had this temporary measure not been implemented, states and communities heavily dependent on tourism would have continued losing astronomical revenues. But perhaps more alarming would have been increased riots from clamoring citizens going mad over non-access to their land. Showdowns at the World War II Memorial in our nation’s capital are proof that the public is getting angrier and more aggressive about their right to visit federally managed places.
Utah has two rogue congressmen who seem to be enjoying the fight in Washington more than they enjoy listening to their constituents at home. Sen. Mike Lee and Rep. Jason Chaffetz, both Republicans, have avoided Utah news reporters but have been active on the Washington Mall at the protests. Their conservative polarization and silence on the Utah front, with their state offices and phone lines closed, will not earn them extra votes next election. But more importantly, they won’t help to come up with the critical discussion and compromise that needs to happen, on so many fronts, to keep this country running.
Here at home the findings of Utah’s HB 142 might seem a little more promising when the costs of closures are factored into the equation. The bill, using $450,000 to conduct a feasibility study to be concluded in November of 2014, originally meant to address tens of millions of acres currently managed by the BLM and U.S. Forest Service. But the recent closures have shown the critical value of our parks and have spawned conversations about who best should manage them.
I don’t think much of HB 142, even though five states have passed similar resolutions to defy federal control. Backers say these lands were promised at statehood to come under state management at some future time for the benefit of their public schools. But public lands are best managed from a unified national perspective for the enjoyment and benefit of all Americans and world citizens. Western states lack the resources to adequately manage these lands, largely because they can’t generate enough income with limited private lands. State governments lack the global view and the best judgments about how best to manage and protect these places.
But the recent blockades in Washington, coupled with some questionable directives and riotous run-ins between rangers and the public across the country, are evidence that there is room for solutions the next time the government turns out the lights.