This past weekend, lawmakers from across the country visited Utah to learn more about our public lands and what can be done to improve their management and utilization.
I had the honor of welcoming my colleague, Senator Lisa Murkowski, to our beautiful state and to join me in hosting a roundtable for the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Public Lands, Forests, and Mining in the scenic city of Moab. The subject matter involved discussing the unique and productive ways Utah manages its different public lands. Utah, like many western states, is mostly comprised of federally owned public land. In fact, the federal government owns more than two-thirds of the land in the state of Utah. Moab was the perfect place to hold this roundtable discussion. Nestled in the southeastern part of the state, Moab is surrounded by some of the most beautiful natural landmarks in the country — including Arches National Park, Dead Horse State Park, and Canyonlands National Park. Each of these parks receives thousands of visitors each day and are well-known by outdoor enthusiasts worldwide
Prior to the roundtable discussion, I had the opportunity to accompany my colleagues for a tour of Arches National Park. For some of my colleagues, including Senator Murkowski, this was their first time experiencing the stunning rock formations that over a million people visit each year. Many of these rock formations took millions of years to form and need to be managed with extreme care. We were able to learn more about the challenges that the park faces: deferred maintenance backlog, natural erosion, and the rapidly increasing rate of visitors.
Our Senate roundtable discussion included many officials from both the state and federal government. Senator Murkowski and myself chaired the hearing, and we were joined by:
Congressman John Curtis
Congressman Rob Bishop
Congressman Paul Gosar
Carl Albercht of the Utah House of Representatives
Councilman Curtis Wells from Grand County
David Ure, Director of the Utah School and Institutional Trust Lands Administration
Kathleen Clarke, Director of the Utah Public Lands Policy Coordination Office
Brian Cottam, State Forester and Division Director at the Utah Division of Forest, Fire, and Public Lands.
We discussed many issues during the roundtable, including the management of trust lands in relation to public lands, the misconceptions and advantages of state public land management, the shortcomings of Payments in Lieu of Taxes (PILT), and federal decisions that have led to increased wildfire risk. You can listen to the roundtable discussion here.
Dead Horse Point State Park
We concluded our public lands tour with a Saturday morning visit to Dead Horse Point State Park. Covering more than five thousand acres, this state park features a dramatic overlook of the Colorado River and contains some of Utah’s premier mountain biking trails. We had the opportunity to meet with Dillon Hoyt, the park manager, and hear about his experience in working with the state of Utah to maintain this beautiful park. He informed us that Dead Horse received around 750,000 visitors last year, is operating effectively and within its budget, and receives generous support from the state government. Mr. Hoyt expressed optimism for the future of the park and expects the number of visitors to increase significantly over the next year.
This weekend was an amazing, insightful experience. I’ve thought a lot about public lands in recent years since I’ve been privileged to serve in the United States Senate. The American people love their public lands. However, when you bestow too much power and too many responsibilities to the federal government, it inevitably leads to problems.
This is why I seek reform in the area of public lands management. It’s not that the individuals running these federal agencies are bad people with malice intent; they’re just simply too distant from the problems that the people who live and recreate on these lands face every day. If we allow the people whose very livelihoods depend on the effective management of these lands to make the decisions, we can better care for the environment and ensure that our public lands are well-preserved for generations to come.