Commissioner Varlin Higbee represented Lincoln County at a Congressional hearing in St. George, Utah last weekend.
Congressman Rob Bishop (R-Utah), Chairman of the Natural Resources Committee, held a field hearing in St. George because of the concerns people in 11 western states have complained about the federal government owning so much public land, including 57.4 percent in Utah and 87 percent in Nevada, and wanting to take more.
Commission chair Kevin Phillips had hoped to attend as well, but was unable to due to other commitments. Previously Phillips had said the hearing “is about the issues we face, all public land, Forest Service, BLM, Fish and Wildlife, etc., and the interference with our lives, but now Congress is starting to take note.
On Jan. 21, Higbee and all 29 members of the Utah Association of Counties, met with three members of the House Natural Resources Committee and voiced their concerns. “We were also told we need to find better ways to get our message out and avoid the falsehoods that are also being presented on social media sources.”
On Friday morning, he said, the local U.S. Fish and Wildlife and BLM services were called in before the committee members and grilled extensively about if they had followed the law in proper fashion. In most cases, the agency representatives admitted they had not. “By the time they were finished, the consensus among the House Committee members was there might need to be a federal grand jury convened and have an investigation, but I don’t know if that will happen. Sometimes politics is fickle.”
Higbee noted, “Congress passes laws and the various federal agencies write rules and regulations that are in conflict with the law itself, yet still seek to enforce the rules and regulations as if it was law. In many cases, some in Utah, some in Nevada, public scoping meetings and involvement as cooperating agency have just been ignored, because the federal agency doesn’t want to have to defend their actions.”
He cited such a case when no one from Lincoln County was invited to participate in plans for creating the Basin and Range Monument. “It’s the same thing that is happening in Utah.”
On Monday this week, the Utah state legislature said it may pursue a lawsuit to gain control of 31 million acres owned by the government, and are willing to pay an estimated $14 million for it.
At the same time, the legislature is hoping to support efforts by Congressman Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), and Rep. Bishop that would give Utah more control and seek guarantees that the president won’t use broad authority to declare new national monuments.
Higbee said Lincoln County has a similar interest, “because we border them with Iron and Washington County.” And President Obama last year did create the 740,000 acre Basin and Range Monument that covers both White Pine and Lincoln County.
Higbee said, “Our rural Nevada counties are solely dependent on natural resources for survival. Our economy is based on natural resource industries, whatever it might be, mining, grazing, logging and fossil fuel exploration. We’re not built on tourism and gaming. We need it all.”
Higbee strongly feels if the western states, including the American Lands Council, don’t take back control of the land, which is promised in the Constitution, “We’re never going to get where we need to be.”
He added, “When a state or a county does not control its natural resources, it does not control its wealth, and all wealth is generated in some form from natural resources, either mined or grown.”
Higbee said from attending the hearing, he felt that the Congressional delegation, at least the Natural Resources Committee, “do know what is going on and they want to know more so they can bring it to the forefront of other Washington delegations. Right now Washington D.C. seems oblivious to what is taking place in the western U.S. Out of sight, out of mind.”
A meeting of the Lincoln County Grazing Association was held in Caliente also on Monday of this week, and Higbee told the group it can make a difference, by pulling together, like those in southern Utah, “locking arms and going after some of these government overreaches. There are avenues that are open through the state association of counties, as well as the national organization of counties. Getting the message out through the use of social media and/or other means the mainstream media seems to be disinterested in.”
Higbee said in Utah, “the rural counties have formed what is called The Posse, and they have been pushing to have the message and allegations of misconduct heard at federal levels. You throw a rock in the pond and see how far the ripples go.”