A Utah State University professor and a co-author of a recent report examining the economic feasibility of Utah’s proposed public land transfer hope to provide more information to the community and answer questions in light of the report’s controversy.

USU applied economics professor Paul Jakus and Therese Grijalva, economics professor at Weber State University, will appear at USU Common Hour in a forum on campus at 11:30 a.m. Wednesday in the Engineering Building, Room 101.

The event, titled “State and Federal Ownership of Public Land: Advancing the Conversation,” is one of several forums the co-authors will be hosting throughout the state.

“When the team originally met, one of our commitments was to the fact that we’re dealing with an issue that’s extremely controversial,” Jakus explained in an interview Friday. “What we wanted to do was be open and as forthcoming about the report as possible to try to answer people’s questions, no matter what they were, on both the strength and the weaknesses of the study. This talk at the university is part of that.”

Grijalva added, “Our hope is that we provide good information to people. Our findings identify some issues that highlight the feasibility of the transfer and expose opportunities and potential risks.”

One of the contested statements in the study is that oil and gas leases would allow Utah to afford the $280 million annual cost of managing the land now under the federal government’s control, but only if oil and gas prices remain high.

The study came about after Utah House Bill 148 was signed into law, which initiated the state’s look into the feasibility of the transfer of over 30 million acres from federal to state control.

As part of that, a study by USU, Weber, and the University of Utah economists was conducted over several years, then recently unveiled to lawmakers. The state is currently mulling a lawsuit with the federal government, expecting to cite elements of the study as part of its legal argument.

“We knew this was going to be controversial the day we signed on the project. That said, the reason why we delayed talking to various group was to let them read and digest the study,” Jakus said. “Some people have read and reacted to the study. On Wednesday, we’re going to go ahead and respond to what we’ve seen in published reports. One of those elements is our revenue scenario analysis.”

At Wednesday’s event, the university economists hope to answer questions like “What is the link between public land management and economic growth?” “What is the net economic value of outdoor recreation?” “If the state does take over management of public lands, what are the projected costs and revenues?” 

“The report supplies a lot of good information and contributes to the debate,” Jakus said. “We want as many people as possible to hear what we have to say.”


Twitter: KevJourno

Kevin Opsahl is a staff writer and features editor at The Herald Journal. He can be reached at 435-752-2121 ext. 1016 or by email at kopsahl@hjnews.com