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Officials discuss federal ownership of lands in western states

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Posted at 9:19 PM, Apr 18, 2014
and last updated 2014-04-18 23:19:18-04

SALT LAKE CITY -- Round 1 between the states and the federal government seems to have gone to a Nevada cattle rancher who got the Bureau of Land Management to back off their own land.

“What’s happened in Nevada is really just a symptom of a much larger problem and a much larger challenge,” said Utah House Speaker Becky Lockhart.

It seems round 2 is only just beginning, as Lockhart, along with other lawmakers and policy leaders from eight western states, convened at the Utah Capitol on Friday. The focus of their discussion was on just how they can take over the federal land in their home states.

“Had the state of Nevada owned the land that is in question in Clark County right now, where the controversy took place, things would have been much different, much different,” said Demar Dahl, County Commissioner of Elko County, Nevada.

Their meeting, however, was planned long before tensions between the BLM and Bundy peaked earlier this month. Following a decades-long dispute, the government started rounding up hundreds of Bundy’s cattle, which have been unlawfully grazing on federal land, totaling more than $1 million in fines that have yet to be paid by Bundy.

“What we want to do is bring the ownership and the management of those public lands to the state, away from the federal government, so that the members of the county, the citizens of the county, can enjoy the blessings of the resources that we have," Dahl said.

They seem to have made some headway in Nevada. When Bundy and a group of armed protestors tried to stop the federal agents, the BLM retreated from their efforts last weekend, which in turn, brought out the fight from Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who slammed the rancher and his group.

“These people who hold themselves out to be patriots are not. They are nothing more than domestic terrorists,” Reid said during an event on Thursday.

The cattle battle aside, lawmakers at the Capitol seemed to be prepping for their own fight in Utah.

“There’s more than a $150 trillion in mineral value right here locked up in the federal lands throughout the west,” said Rep. Ken Ivory, R-West Jordan, an opponent of the government’s hand in Utah land.

Ivory argued the government does not have the resources to even maintain their land in the state, which is hurting Utahns.

“The acres harvested are dropping precipitously,” he said. “At the same time, the catastrophic wildfires are increasing dramatically, the cost, the acreage. That’s killing millions of animals; it’s destroying habitat and watershed. So, if we don’t stand up to act now, and seeing that trajectory of what’s coming, we know that down the road those problems are only going to get bigger.”