SALT LAKE CITY - A frustration with restrictions on drilling, mining or grazing on federal lands in Utah brought hundreds of people Saturday to the Utah Capitol for a rally and off-road vehicle parade.
The goal for co-founder Mike Swenson was to demonstrate that public sentiment supports a mix of recreational, agricultural and industrial uses of public lands. The rally was a "push-back" against wilderness protections proposed by environmental groups, he said.
"It's critical for people to unite and get together," Swenson told the Deseret News of Salt Lake City. "It is empowering when you see fellow citizens who think like you. Sometimes you can feel like you are all alone when there are huge forces out there trying to close public lands."
The rally began at the state fairgrounds, where people driving vehicles such as 4-wheelers and jeeps gathered before heading through the streets of downtown Salt Lake City to the state Capitol.
"We're going to see what we can do to get our lands back because we can manage them better, we know how to keep them good, we know how to use them, we are tired of them usurping our rights and taking our lands from us and preventing us from being able to use them in a reasonable decent fashion," Sen. Orrin Hatch said.
Other speakers included Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, Gov. Gary Herbert and Utah Deputy Attorney General John Swallow.
The first Take Back Utah rally was held in 2009 and is now planned as an annual event. The impetus for organizers is the federal control of millions of acres in Utah, which is a flashpoint issue for people angry with the federal government.
Utah has filed a lawsuit against the Interior Department this year because of a wild lands policy that would have reviewed millions of acres in Utah alone for potential wilderness protections. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar has since suspended the policy.
Lawmakers have also approved funding for a defense fund that can be used to pay for lawsuits challenging federal authority.
"Every year this thing is growing," Rep. Mike Noel, R-Kanab, said. "We think we have the momentum to win a lot of these battles and take back some of these public lands and use them like they should be used."