As someone who spends a significant portion of time on horseback exploring the backcountry of Utah, I can attest to the natural beauty of our great state and why I feel so fortunate to be living here. Whenever I travel out of state and tell others that I live in Utah, the response is typically something like this: "You are so lucky. That is such a beautiful state."
So it goes without saying that the overwhelming majority of Americans will never have the outdoor experiences that we here in the Beehive State enjoy. No matter your outdoor pleasure, the opportunities that abound for me and my family and hundreds of thousands like us are something that we should not take for granted.
That is why the hair on the back of my head stands up when I hear the increasing political rhetoric coming from many of Utah's elected officials, including Gov. Gary Herbert, about how the federal government is "overreaching" by blocking Utah's ability to develop its "energy resources," or that Utah should take control of federal lands.
This is from a Legislature that couldn't even find $500,000 last year to keep Edge of the Cedars State Park open.
Let's be clear. The 60 million-plus acres of federal land in Utah are owned not only by me and my kids, title is also held by every American, whether they live in Indiana, Florida, Iowa, New Mexico or Utah. This is a trust and a vision left by those before us that is unmatched anywhere else in the world.
Selling off or even leasing such lands for private development is clearly a violation of that trust, particularly when it's merely for speculation, as in the case of oil shale and tar sands. Most people understand that developing oil shale has been a card shark's game for nearly a century.
Now, as we enter an election season, many officials, including the governor, are using higher gas prices as political fodder to 1) discredit President Obama, and 2) build support from an ignorant public for speculative leasing of large tracts of public lands for a very marginal source of energy.
Consider this from Herbert's Facebook page: "The Federal Government is blocking Utah energy development. $4 gas looms as a result."
First, it's been said over and over. Gasoline prices are based on the world oil markets. A president has little if any effect on current gas prices.
Second, opening up large tracts of lands in Utah or Colorado for oil shale and tar sands leasing, as was done by the Bush administration, was a true overreach into the public good, a real land grab, and a major gift to corporate corruption. It accomplished one thing only: pad the balance sheets for speculators looking to attract investors.
Considering that heating rocks into a viable motor fuel is still years away (in spite of erroneous assertions), claims that such development will help alleviate the cost of $4 gasoline today are disingenuous at best. Worse, it's an outright lie and any politician who makes such a claim knows it's a lie.
Third, the Bureau of Land Management's current proposal to scale back previous lease acreages is the smart thing to do because it guards the public resources from being hijacked by a few profiteers and speculators. In addition, it protects some of those special outdoor places that are held in trust for all Americans, not just a handful of political donors.
Allowing politicians to give away public resources for private interests is bad policy. Managing our beautiful public lands in the West for the good of all is good policy. The public deserves nothing less.
Bill Coon lives in unincorporated Salt Lake County west of Herriman. He is a past president and member of the Back Country Horsemen of Utah, and a past member of the Bureau of Land Management's Resource Advisory Council.