- Associated Press - Friday, February 19, 2016

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) - As Utah embarks on its push to own land currently under federal control, lawmakers want to create a new office to manage the acres if the state ever takes over.

A proposal from Rep. Mike Noel, R-Kanab, would create a Utah Division of Land Management and a separate advisory board made up of state officials and representatives from the oil, gas, mining and agriculture industries, as well as representatives from recreation and environmental groups.

A natural resources committee in the House of Representatives approved the measure on a 9 to 1 vote Friday. It advances to the full House of Representatives for a vote.

Noel said his plan would take effect if the state acquires 100,000 acres or more from the federal government as part Utah’s land control push, something critics say is unlikely to happen.

Representatives from rural Utah counties, ranchers, and the Utah Farm Bureau spoke in favor of Noel’s plan Friday, saying it would allow more local control that’s more responsive to their concerns than federal land managers.

No one spoke in opposition.

Noel’s proposal calls for any land that Utah gains to be managed to promote grazing, mineral extraction, recreation and conservation, among other uses.

Utah passed a 2012 law demanding that the federal government transfer control of much of Utah’s public lands to the state by 2015. That deadline passed without the federal government offering up about 31 million acres it controls.

State officials are now weighing whether they want to file a lawsuit to force the issue. Supporters argue the state would be a better manager of the land and that local control would allow Utah to make money from taxes and development rights on those acres.

The lawsuit could cost up to $14 million, but critics argue Utah has no legal claim to the land and will lose the case.


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