SALT LAKE CITY -- Sen. Orrin Hatch and Congressman Rob Bishop, along with state and education leaders, announced the state's plan to take over federal public lands in Utah.
"We're talking about freedom here," said Hatch, R-Utah, at the state Capitol on Tuesday during a news conference. "We should be taking care of the lands ourselves. No one wants to despoil the lands, but we're sick and tired of the federal bureaucracy telling us what we can and cannot do."
With Hatch and Bishop, were Rep. Roger Barrus, R-Centerville, and Rep. Ken Ivory, R-West Jordan. Both state legislators sponsored several bills asserting the state's right to claim the federal lands.
About 63 percent of Utah is federally owned, officials said. And the federal government is making it more difficult for Utahns to use the land.
Hatch said Utahns are better suited than the federal government to decide how to use the land within its state. Because the land is under federal control, the state cannot collect any taxes from it.
Bishop said one out of every three acres across the nation is controlled by the federal government. In the West, one out of every two acres is controlled by the federal government.
When Utah became a state, it entered into a compact agreement similar to North Dakota's, Bishop said. Today only 3 percent of North Dakota is federally controlled.
Oil found in North Dakota's private lands has not only put funds in the state's coffers, but also has reduced its unemployment rate to 3 percent, Hatch said.
The Utah delegation plans to coordinate its effort with state leaders. As part of that, they will introduce bills that are similar to the ones recently passed by state lawmakers.
Lt. Gov. Greg Bell said Utahns have made their living from "the streams, lakes and valleys," and now the federal government is closing roads and closing areas to the public.
"We will negotiate," Bell said. "We will legislate and we will litigate."
Gainell Rogers, president of the Utah PTA, said that organization supports the effort as long as funds used to litigate are not funds needed for education.
Hatch said if Utahns are able to control the lands, they will be able to increase the state's economy and bring in more revenue for education.
The federal land can be developed for oil shale, logging, raising of cattle and for recreation, Hatch said.
"It will provide a lot of jobs for many people."