Recent and widespread wildfires are a “predictable consequence” of federal management of public lands, said Doug Heaton, a Kane County commissioner who recently visited with Morgan County officials. Heaton asked the Morgan County Council to support his effort to establish the American Lands Council, an organization formed to address land issues including federal intrusion on private property rights.
“Fires, and the cost to fight them, have grown catastrophic because our forests have been managed for maximum combustibility,” Heaton said. “The fuel load continues to build. We are beginning to reap predictable consequences.”
Morgan County Council Chairwoman Tina Kelley agreed.
“New Mexico and Arizona are experiencing the worst fires in their history due to federal management,” she said.
Heaton said the federal government is managing forests “under environmental pressure,” resulting in management for preservation and to protect endangered species. Heaton said the ironic outcome is that animals, as many as three per acre, are burned in wildfires. That means about 50 million animals perished in fires last year. In addition, wildfires add pollutants into the atmosphere.
According to the Bureau of Land Management, the federal government controls over 50 percent of all land in the western states, but less than 5 percent of all lands east of Colorado. This means that the western states are more at risk for widespread wild fires, Heaton said.
The best way to counteract this is to band together as local and jurisdictional authorities, businesses and organizations to “form a defense and go on offense to reclaim local control over matters of land access, use and ownership,” Heaton said. “We need to give courage to the state legislature and governor. We must get behind the state and push them to do what they should.”
He said the Constitution grants states independent powers that he feels they are not using against the power of the federal government.
“I haven’t seen a lot of check on the power of the federal government,” Heaton said at a recent Morgan County Council. “States must act like independent sovereigns.”
Heaton emphasized that the American Lands Council is not a lobby group, but a team. He hopes to get 100 counties on board this year, which will “bring pressure, and give courage to stand against the federal government.” He said counties in the lower third of the state have joined his group, as have some counties in New Mexico, Nevada and Idaho.
Heaton said his organization supports House Bill 148, which demands that 20 million acres of federal lands—including all forest service lands, BLM lands, national wildlife refuges and national recreation areas—be turned over to the state of Utah by 2015. Heaton said that the states of Utah, Colorado and Wyoming have more recoverable oil than the world combined, but access to this oil and permits allowing drilling are not available.
He said he has found supporters all over the nation, not just in western states. Many supporters have expressed concern over the power the Environmental Protection Agency has over private property.
Efforts to curb federal power will take time and money, Heaton said. He asked the council for a $5,000 membership fee. The council agreed to consider the donation at their next council meeting when all council members could be present to vote.
“The reason I am in this fight is I have a lot of kids. I don’t want to ever have to explain to my grandkids what it was like to be free,” Heaton said. “My children will never see what I saw.”
Heaton said that in his area of the state, 50 percent of roads in Dixie National Forest have been closed to public access.
“We are distressed by that,” he said.
Kelley said she is sad to see the forests in her native Montana destroyed by the pine beetle while under federal management. “It is tragic,” she said.
“The beetle infestation is wiping out our national and private forests,” said Morgan County Councilman Robert Kilmer. “One hundred-year-old trees are dying. We have standing dead trees. It is absolutely horrible. You should have seen these forests 25 years ago. The last eight to 10 years have seen such a decline, it is unreal.”
For more information, visit americanlandscouncil.org.