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Western GOP officials: Let states run public lands

SALT LAKE CITY — Some Western Republican officials say their states are missing out on revenue and opportunities to prevent wildfires because they don’t have enough control over public lands.

The group on Friday included U.S. Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, and state lawmakers from Montana, Nevada and Utah. They spoke at a convention of Western Republican officials in front of about 150 attendees in a chandeliered ballroom in Salt Lake City.

“We have to find other ways to accommodate our local needs, because the federal government is essentially starving us of revenues that are rightfully ours,” said James Evans, the state party chairman.

But critics say individual states aren’t equipped to manage vast ranges, forests and deserts.

“There’s a cost to managing these lands,” Sierra Club spokesman Tim Wagner said Thursday. “They have to be managed one way or the other, and the state doesn’t have the resources to do that.”

Phone messages left with the Bureau of Land Management’s Utah office were not immediately returned Friday.

Nevada state Sen. Mark Hutchison, R-Las Vegas, contends his state is losing out on millions of tax dollars that it could bring in if it were to operate public acres.

“This really is a call to arms for us in Nevada, and I think for all the Western states,” he said Friday.

Eight out of 10 acres in Nevada constitute public lands, Hutchison said. Two-thirds of Utah is public lands.

Montana state Sen. Jennifer Fielder said the state could limit wildfires by logging in forests, clearing out dead trees and boosting state profits from timber sales. “We’ve got all this fuel in the woods now,” she said.

The gathering Friday follows an announcement last week from another group of Western officials who said it’s time they manage federal lands rich in natural resources.

BLM in recent weeks rounded up cattle belonging to rancher Cliven Bundy in Bunkerville, about 80 miles northeast of Las Vegas, saying he hasn’t paid grazing fees he has owed since the 1990s. Bundy does not recognize federal authority on the land.

Federal officials released the cattle after a standoff with armed protesters.

Utah Gov. Gary Herbert in a Thursday news conference on KUED-TV, Channel stressed that Bundy does not represent Utah’s public lands issue.

“Cliven Bundy should not be the face for the public lands issues in Utah,” he said.

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