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Who's grabbin' who?

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Jodi Peterson | Mar 03, 2010 11:10 AM

A few days ago, Editor Jonathan Thompson posted "The trouble with monuments", describing his reaction to the news that the Department of Interior has its eye on some potential new national monuments in the West. Utah politicians, unsurprisingly, have been quick to decry what they see as an unilateral "federal land grab" (despite the fact that the Interior document clearly says that before establishing a new monument, further evaluation and a study of public and Congressional support would be required).

Now, those same Utah legislators are proposing a land grab of their own. The LA Times reports:

The Utah House of Representatives last week passed a bill allowing the state to use eminent domain to take land the federal government owns and has long protected from development.

The state wants to develop three hotly contested areas -- national forest land in the Wasatch Mountains north of Salt Lake City, land in a proposed wilderness area in the red rock southwestern corner of the state, and a stretch of desert outside of Arches National Park that the Obama administration has declared off-limits to oil and gas development.

The legislators hope to eventually push the issue to the Supreme Court and claim more power for states. Utah's been at this for decades -- filing RS-2477 claims to establish rights-of-way across federal land, tearing down signs barring off-road vehicles from public land, bulldozing roads into Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, and on and on. These "Sagebrush Rebels" just won't quit (see our cover story "Rebels with a Lost Cause"). But HCN publisher Paul Larmer's assessment of such attempts to assert state control over federally-protected lands is as apt now as it was in 2007:

As long as we have large chunks of public land to fight over, we will see new insurrections. But we have crossed a threshold in the West from which we will not return. A majority of Westerners - and even most of their elected officials - understand that the quality of life we enjoy can be overrun by development or marred by overuse, whether by gas drillers, strip-mall developers or out-of-control off-road vehicles. They realize that the public lands are a rare and still relatively unspoiled national resource that needs to be conserved for everyone.

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