‘Where’s the line?’ Ivory’s crusade to return public lands to the states

State rep. Ken Ivory discussing HB 148 before members of the Washington County Tea Party Coalition. | Photo by Mori Kessler, St. George News.

ST. GEORGE – State representative Ken Ivory addressed the issues of state sovereignty and public lands Wednesday before members of the Washington County Tea Party Coalition.

Ivory is the author of the legislation known as House Bill 148, the Transfer of Public Lands Act,  that was signed into law by Gov. Gary Herbert on March 23. Praised by supporters and blasted by opponents, the legislation calls for the federal government to hand over management of Utah’s public lands to the state by 2014.

The purpose of Ivory’s presentation before the Washington County Tea Party Coalition was not only to educate the public on the reasons behind HB 148’s creation, but also to make attendees aware that there was still work to do .

Map detailing the location of public lands (marked in red). | Image courtesy of Arewenotastate.com

A Tale of Two States: The path to HB 148

As the presentation started, Ivory supplied a map depicting the location of public lands in the United States. The bulk of the states east of Colorado were white, with specs of red marking federally-held and controlled lands such as national parks and monuments. In the western half of the country, however, the image was reversed. Red dominated the map with sparse smatterings of white.

Referring to the map, Ivory asked a question: “Why?”

Why do the Eastern states have more freedom in how they use their public lands than the Western states do? Why has the federal government held on to Utah’s lands for so long? Why is there such inequality between the East and the West in this matter?

As an example of the inequality between the states when applied to the public lands, Ivory drew a comparison between Utah and North Dakota called “The Tale of Two States.”

North Dakota, Ivory said, had a grand total of three percent public land. Utah’s public lands currently make up 65 percent of the state. North Dakota has 20,000 jobs looking for people to fill them, he added, and said education spending in the state was above average thanks to revenues collected from the use of lands managed by the state.

“[North Dakotans] control their lands,” Ivory said.

Ivory also said that while Utah was doing well during economically trying times, it had a “rendezvous with reality” when it came to the state’s budget.

State rep. Ivory discusses the trouble Utah may face if $5 billion of it budget supplied by the federal government falters. | Photo by Mori Kessler, St. George News.

The annual state budget is $13 billion. Of that sum, $5 billion comes from the federal government – the same government that is currently $15 trillion in debt.

The state also faces a $2 billion gap in education spending, he said.

“History is not kind with the laws of economic gravity,” Ivory said. Somehow Utah needed to find a way to make up for the $5 billion hole that could appear if the federal government started making drastic cut backs.

Suggestions were made in the legislature, such as getting rid of tax exemptions for large families, raising taxes on the individuals, or raising taxes on corporations. None of these options sounded particularly inviting to Ivory. So how could Utah make up for a potential $5 billion budgetary hole, plus find a way to resolve a $2 billion funding gap for education?

“We aren’t going to tax our way out of this,” Ivory said.

So what was the answer? Ivory saw it in Utah’s public lands.

“There are trillions of dollars in natural resources in Utah alone,” Ivory said.

That answer would culminate in the creation and passing HB 148.

Spreading the word

Though the law has passed and Utah’s legislative session for 2012 has concluded, Ivory’s work isn’t done.

Ivory now travels across the West spreading his message of state sovereignty and self-determination. A large part of this process includes sharing the history of public lands with his audience.

“We think we know our history and we simply don’t,” Ivory said.

According to Ivory, the tug-of-war between the states and federal government has existed since the nation’s founding. He mentioned a coalition of states in 1828 that banded together and petitioned the government to release its public lands, and succeeded. How was this accomplished?

Ivory credits the success of the 1828 movement to the people of the time knowing their rights and their history.

Another point Ivory highlighted was the Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976. He said this law changed the federal government from a trustee of the public lands to something akin to a “feudal landlord” of the medieval era. Following that analogy – the states are thus reduced to the status of subservient serfs.

The government was never meant to be a land baron, Ivory said, but a trustee only. In the Enabling Act of Utah – which language mirrors the Enabling Acts of North Dakota and other states – Ivory said it is stated the government is only meant to hold on to public lands “…until the title thereto shall have been extinguished…”

Ivory said the waiting period for some states had been as little as five years.

More recently, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2009 in favor of a state’s right to sell, lease or rent its lands as it saw fit (Hawaii v. the Office of Hawaiian Affair). During the signing of HB 148, Ivory referenced this ruling, and quoted parts of the judgment:

Ken Ivory's book. | Photo courtesy of Wheresthelineamerica.com

“A unanimous U.S. Supreme Court recently declared that congress cannot change the ‘uniquely sovereign character of a state’s admission’ into the Union and that this proposition applies with even greater force where ‘virtually all of a State’s public lands are at stake.’”

Ivory continued to mention instances where he said the federal government had been a bad landlord and trustee of public lands. Because of its poor management it was time for the Western states to take back their lands and to cease acting as dependents of the government.

“If we act like a dependent, we will be treated as a dependent,” Ivory said, adding the language in HB 148 made Utah a partner with the government in managing the lands within its jurisdiction, and not a subservient.

Ivory has authored a book on the state’s role in checking federal power titled “Where’s the Line?” He also encourages people to visit WheresTheLineAmerica.com for additional information.

At the conclusion of his presentation, Ivory asked the audience to do the following:

  • Study the subject of public lands and state sovereignty,
  • Share with family, friends, and others what they learned,
  • Ask elected representatives at all levels of government if they understand where the line stands between the states and the federal government,
  • Commit to cultivate a national, non-partisan dialogue regarding “where the line” stands between state and federal jurisdiction.

“If this isn’t the time stand up for what we have now,” Ivory said, “then what will we have to stand with later?”

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Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @MoriKessler

Copyright 2012 St. George News.

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