Petition demands Utah drop 'land grab'
SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — The Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance delivered a petition signed by 5,400 people protesting Gov. Gary Herbert's threat to take over federal lands in Utah.
The wilderness group gathered at the Utah Capitol Wednesday with hunters, fishermen and others to protest what they call a land grab.
At issue is legislation signed by Herbert that gives the federal government until 2014 to relinquish control of public lands in Utah. The Utah Legislature authorized a lawsuit if the federal government doesn't comply.
Herbert was not on hand Wednesday to accept the petition. His office didn't immediately respond to a request by The Associated Press for comment.
The threatened takeover sets up a battle over nearly 4,700 square miles of land in Utah.
"Don't mess with our public lands," said Jack Nelson, an 82-year-old outdoorsman and one of the founders of the Utah chapter of Trout Unlimited. "These are our lands and should not be sold off or taken from us."
Many states have no significant federal lands, while other states are lucky to have a national park. Utah has five national parks, seven national monuments and 33 federal wilderness areas, along with extensive national forests.
"If you want to go camping in New Jersey, it's pretty hard," said Laurel Legate, a Salt Lake City school teacher. "Utah is special."
Herbert has said the state isn't threatening to take over national parks or the monuments or wilderness areas.
The Transfer of Public Lands Act excludes those areas — or most of them — from a state takeover. The legislation fails to make an exception for the 3,100-square-mile Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.
That was no accident, said Rep. Ken Ivory, R-West Jordan, sponsor of the transfer act. He accuses President Clinton of designating the Grand Staircase monument in 1996 by "fiat" without consulting Utah.