- Associated Press - Thursday, April 24, 2014

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) - Gov. Gary Herbert says Utah should have more oversight of public lands within state borders.

State officials are better equipped to manage federal lands, Herbert said, because they are more familiar with local issues.

“The state ought to have a larger say in what happens in our own backyard,” he said Thursday in a monthly televised news conference on KUED.

Federal plans can take years to approve, Herbert said, and he believes state authorities could streamline the process. But activists are questioning whether the state has the resources to manage Utah’s vast public forests, deserts and pastures.

“My first question is: Where are they going to find the money and the resources to do that?” Sierra Club spokesman Tim Wagner said.

The governor’s comments come on the heels of a meeting of officials from nine Western states who on Friday said it’s time they take control of federal lands rich in oil, timber and minerals.

Herbert said he does not foresee any conflict in Utah akin to an armed standoff in recent weeks between Nevada protesters and the federal Bureau of Land Management. He cautioned against such an exhibition, saying it could hurt the state’s relationship with federal officials in Washington.

But San Juan County Commissioner Phil Lyman plans to defy federal law and rally ATV owners to ride into a canyon next month. He says Bureau of Land Management officials have been weighing for too long whether to allow ATV trails on Recapture Canyon, which is now closed to motorized use.

The Bureau of Land Management in recent weeks rounded up hundreds of Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy’s cattle and said he hasn’t paid the more than $1 million in grazing fees he owes for trespassing on federal lands since the 1990s. Bundy does not recognize federal authority on the land his family has farmed since the 1870s.

The federal office released the cattle after a showdown with gun-toting landowners and others.

“I don’t see the Nevada problem coming to Utah. I hope it doesn’t, and we’ll certainly keep our eye on what’s going on there,” Herbert said.

Utah landowners don’t feel heard, and state authorities could help remedy that problem if they were to control horse populations on federally owned pastures, he said.

At the news conference, the governor also said he supports a new proposal to denote schools’ grades with a broader set of benchmarks instead of the current A-F grading scale. The plan comes from Tami Pyfer, his education adviser, and proposes that report cards for schools also include demographic factors.

Herbert, who recently took a trip to Mexico with leaders from about 40 companies looking extend their customer base there, said a stronger Mexican economy would bolster federal initiatives for immigration reform.

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