Stegner Center Releases Legal Analysis of Utah’s Efforts to Control Federal Public Lands

October 29, 2014 — The Wallace Stegner Center for Land, Resources & the Environment at the University of Utah’s S.J. Quinney College of Law today released a White Paper titled “A Legal Analysis of the Transfer of Public Lands Movement.” The White Paper discusses Utah’s Transfer of Public Lands Act, or TPLA, which demands that the federal government transfer title to 30 million acres of federal public lands within Utah to the State. As the White Paper notes, the TPLA has inspired eight other states to pass legislation seeking to control federal lands.

The White Paper concludes that Utah has no legal right to the land it demands, and the federal government has the constitutional authority to retain lands in federal ownership. The federal government gave Western states over 70 million acres of public land, and newly admitted states explicitly disclaimed all rights to additional land. This legal disclaimer cannot be read to create a federal duty to dispose of additional federal land, and guarantees of equal political rights for each state cannot be converted into a promise of equal land ownership. Furthermore, while federal legislation authorizing creation of the Western states guarantees those states a share of the proceeds resulting from federal land sales, that guarantee does not create a legal obligation to sell off public lands.

University Distinguished Professor Bob Keiter, Director of the Stegner Center, and John Ruple, Stegner Center Fellow and Research Associate, authored the White Paper. According to the authors, “With two-thirds of the land in Utah under federal control, questions of how public lands are managed impact every Utahn and every American. While we recognize that some are dissatisfied with the state of federal land management, the legally flawed TPLA is the wrong tool to address those concerns. Unfortunately, misplaced efforts like the TPLA get in the way of collaborative efforts, and in so doing, aggravate tensions rather than foster solutions.”

The white paper can be downloaded here.

For more information, contact John Ruple at 801-581-6545 or

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