Our Mission on Public Lands

“I believe that through careful deliberation, we can identify the most responsible stewardship for our varied lands. For some areas, that will mean the highest level of environmental protection. For other areas, that might mean allowing access for responsible outdoor recreation. And in other areas of our vast public lands, the stewardship that will provide their greatest public benefit might be sustainable natural resource development.” - Governor Gary R. Herbert

The Story:

      Utah is a public lands state, which means that a majority of our land mass is owned by government. Approximately 75 percent of the state, more than 35 million acres, belongs to the public. Additionally, 3.4 million acres of School and Institutional Trust Lands (7.3 percent of our state) are open for use by the general public in accordance with an agreement between the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources and the Utah Trust Lands Administration. 


     Our state does a tremendous job at overseeing state-owned public lands. Utah has the largest active habitat restoration program in America, and we lease more than 95,000 acres of private land and many miles of stream for public recreational access. And, on top of that, Utah oversees 1.5 million acres of public land and 2,200 miles of shoreline.


      In addition to the millions of acres of public land that is overseen and managed by the federal government, the State of Utah works collaboratively and cooperatively to help protect and preserve federal public lands. Clearly, Utah is a public lands state.


      We in Utah believe that there is no single best use of public lands. That is why we promote a multiple-use philosophy, akin to the beliefs of President Theodore Roosevelt. We work our hardest to ensure access, conservation, recreation, and more on our public lands. We also believe that some public lands provide a unique opportunity for the prudent and responsible development of energy and mineral resources.


      Here are a few examples of how our state successfully oversees public lands:


     Through our Watershed Restoration Initiative, we have treated more than 1.3 million acres of land. We still have hundreds of projects underway that will rehabilitate and restore approximately 265,000 more acres. Those numbers don’t even account for the projects currently proposed and under review. Utah has invested more than $20 million in restoring Utah’s watersheds. Partner donations and in-kind support have included an additional $100 million.


     Our Division of Wildlife Resources owns and administers more than 460,000 acres of Wildlife Management Areas. These areas are managed to benefit wildlife and provide public access for hunting, fishing and wildlife watching.


     DWR issues more than 700,000 hunting and fishing licenses and permits each year.


     Utah contains 45 Blue Ribbon Fisheries, which are waters that provide highly-satisfying fishing and outdoor experiences for diverse groups of anglers.


      In addition to Utah’s lakes, reservoirs, and river access, there are thousands of miles of streams open for access to kayaking, fishing and other water sports in Utah.


      The Division of State Parks and Recreation manages 44 state parks and museums statewide, which includes about 200,000 acres of public land, 277 miles of hiking and biking trails, and nearly 3,500 campgrounds, cabins, yurts, and teepees.


      The Division also manages Utah’s boating program, which enables Utah boaters and recreators access for 23 state park lakes and reservoirs, including 1,346 freshwater square miles statewide; 1,699 saltwater square miles and 1,000 freshwater river miles. 


     Approximately 65,000 boats are registered in Utah with access to public waters for water-sports, including water-skiing, touring, and fishing.


      More than 80,000 miles of ATV trails are accessible in Utah, making the state home to one of the largest and most publicly accessible networks of OHV trail systems nationwide. These public trails systems are available for summer and winter enjoyment.


      State Parks has private business ventures and partnerships with more than 230 contractors to provide goods and services at Utah’s 44 state parks. Many of these contracts include recreational vendors and services such as boat and ATV rentals, zip lines, cabin rentals, guided excursions and on-water playgrounds.


      We are proud of our 5 National Parks, 8 National Monuments, 44 State Parks, and numerous federal recreation areas, and we are dedicated to ensuring that the voices of Utahns are held above those of special interests, now and forevermore.


Frequently Asked Questions:


Q: What is the controversy surrounding Bears Ears?

A:  In late 2016, President Obama designated 1.35 million acres in the Bears Ears region as a national monument through the American Antiquities Act of 1906. To give perspective on the scope of this designation, it should be noted that the original boundaries of the Bears Ears National Monument were larger than the state of Delaware. While some Native tribes supported President Obama’s designation, other tribes and most San Juan County residents did not. This monument designation was made near the very end of a president’s term and many Utahns did not believe it was the best way to protect these sacred and important lands. In fact, monument designation has been known to bring greater attention and tourism to fragile archaeological sites.

In December of 2017, President Trump signed an Executive Order in the Utah State Capitol shrinking the Bears Ears National Monument. This took place after a nationwide review of national monuments was conducted by the U.S. Department of the Interior. The new designated boundaries were widely determined to be more in-line with the legal text of the Antiquities Act which states that designations should be limited to the “smallest area compatible with proper care and management.” The smaller designation continues to contain the areas of archaeological importance, and, moreover, the land pertaining to the original designation in 2016 remains under Federal control.

Governor Herbert believes in the importance of process. The designation of a National Monument, that is larger than 2 U.S. states, by a sole authority (the President of the United States) when in conflict with the people of the state it is impacting is problematic. Governor Herbert supports a legislative process that grants the appropriate and necessary protections to the right areas. 

Governor Herbert has supported Congressman Curtis’s H.R. 4532 which would give Native American tribes the opportunity to co-manage the new national monument. This would be the first ever tribally co-managed national monument in history, and a huge step for Tribal-U.S. relations. This legislation also explicitly bans any new mining, drilling, and other resource development in the original, larger monument boundaries. This legislation goes even further to protect these sacred lands than a monument designation does because this legislation includes funding for enforcement. And, it includes enough funding to employ law enforcement officers for the protection of the region and the sacred artifacts found there. National monument designation doesn’t implicitly come with funding or law enforcement personnel. 

We believe there are better ways to protect the Bears Ears region.


Q: What authority do states have with federal land?

A: Under the Property Clause, Congress and the Executive Branch (Presidency) have been given authority over federal lands. However, states’ ability to license and otherwise manage hunting and fishing generally extend to federal lands within their borders.


Q: How has the decision to reduce the size of the Bears Ears National Monument impacted Utah tourism?

A: Utah is proud of our 5 National Parks, 8 National Monuments, and 44 state parks and we encourage visitors and residents to visit and respect the land. Bears Ears consists of red rock, juniper forests, and high plateaus, in addition to a rich history of Native Americans and artifacts. Monument status, however, can limit specific activities such as mountain biking, rock climbing, and motorized travel. Managing this land is best done through a partnership between the state, federal government, and tribal leaders who have a connection to the land and its unique recreation. Strong protections for this land are in place with the sacred antiquities remaining protected through existing laws, regulations, and land management. Ultimately, Utah’s tourism numbers continue to increase year-over-year.


Q: How does the Bears Ears decision influence the state’s relationship with outdoor retail companies?

A: The misunderstanding about the controversy surrounding the Bears Ears National Monument in 2017 unfortunately strained relations between some Utah politicians and leaders of the outdoor recreation industry. Nonetheless, Utah continues to be one of the world’s most sought-after locations for outdoor recreation and retail companies alike. We are so proud of the companies that are located in our state. Government and outdoor companies have made significant progress to once again work together on common objectives to protect public lands for recreational use. 


Q: Does Governor Herbert stand by President Trump’s decision to significantly decrease the amount of land protected?

A: President Trump’s Executive Order to reduce the size of the Bears Ears National Monument and the size of the Grande Staircase Escalante National Monument did not lessen the amount of land that is protected. All of the land within the prior monument boundaries is still owned, managed, and protected by the federal government. The Herbert administration has no interest in selling off or transferring public lands, nor could we – as this land is overseen by the federal government and not the state.  


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