On Tuesday in the Wildcat Theater, Weber State University’s Sustainability Practices and Research Center (SPARC), along with the Center for Community Engaged Learning hosted “Matter of Fact: Lands of the West,” a panel discussion about native people and public lands as a part of the Engaged Learning Series on campus.
Dr. Alice Mulder, WSU assistant professor and director of SPARC, opened the event before turning the microphone over to the panel.
The discussion started with an introductory speech from each panelist to give some background on public lands in the west.
WSU professor and chair of history Dr. Sara Dant spoke regarding the five organizations that are in charge of maintaining, managing and monetizing the public lands.administer public lands in the United States and the responsibilities of each agency. She explained how the National Park Service was originally managed by the U.S. military and how the Forest Service was created to preserve timber harvests.
Dant explained that 57 percent of Utah is federally owned and over 85 percent of the western United States is considered to be public land.
Dant’s recently published book titled, “Losing Eden: An Environmental History of the American West” discussed the interaction between people and nature, and how the relationship has evolved.
Daniel McCool, professor emeritus from the University of Utah, gave an overview of legislation and laws affecting Native Americans and federal land management. As the director of environmental studies at the U of U, McCool spoke on the mistreatment of Native Americans and the Enabling Act of 1894 saying, “Indian lands are small remnants of (what they used to be).”
The third panelist, Rep. Timothy Hawkes of Utah’s 18th district, displayed an image of what types of public lands in Utah are managed by the state and for what reason.
Hawkes explained to the audience the difference between lands such as state parks and lands managed under the School Institute Trust Lands Administration. Hawkes detailed the process of selling and renting public lands.
The idea behind renting and selling these lands, is not for governmental profit, but to have money to manage and maintain the lands. He referred specifically to lands that the government has set aside to build schools, hospitals and other public services.
“I think that one of the biggest challenges to (managing) public lands is the fact that, and this was eluded to, that we love them so much,” Hawkes said. “So when we talk about loving them to death, it’s real.”
The panel then addressed three questions from Mulder about the challenges of administration and doctrines followed by different sides of the debate over public land management. After the first half of the event, the audience was given an opportunity to ask the panel questions.
When given the microphone, McCool offered insight to the disparities facing the indigenous people in the west.
“The problem with collaboration,” McCool said, “is it only works when all the stakeholders are at the table and what happened in public lands policy over the last hundred years they left out the Native Americans.”
The contested reduction to Bears Ears National Monument and Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument was brought up several times. Hawkes was asked to clarify his characterization of the Antiquities Act as, “not that strong of a protective tool.”
Regarding the monument’s re-designation Hawkes said, “When you read the Antiquities Act it really comes down to the word ‘designate.’ Once given the power to designate land it would be hard to argue that land couldn’t be re-designated.”
WSU botany major Jake Eiting asked the panel how the narrative of a “land-grab” from the federal government originated. The panel seemed to have difficulty answering the question objectively, making several tongue-in cheek comments. “Can we mention names?” McCool asked in jest.
Dant was more succinct in her answer. “We want it to be good guys and bad guys,” she said. “It’s a good argument to make and it makes the argument simple.”
The discussion remained mostly civil except for a brief moment of disagreement between an audience member and Hawkes regarding the discrepancy between facts unproven scientific hypotheses surrounding climate change.
“The whole point of this series — ‘Matter of Fact’ — is exactly that,” Dant said. “We have to find out what the facts are.”
All three panelists made the same final point: these lands are our lands. If something corrupt or immoral is being done to our lands, they urged students to contact their U.S. Congress representatives and senators.