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Public Lands

Herding cattle with family in Loa Utah

Living in the American West throughout my life has had a profound influence on me. There is something life-affirming about the landscapes, the sheer expanse of it all. My home state of Utah is lavished with some of the most stunning vistas on the planet within a vast geographical footprint of 84,900 square miles—the eleventh largest of the fifty United States. Most of those lands are owned and administered by the federal government. For us in the West, the lands both symbolize America and define Utah. They are home. 

My mother’s family, the Okerlunds, grazed sheep and cattle on the Parker Mountain range southeast of Loa in Wayne County long before grazing permits were required from federal and state land management agencies. One small section had special significance—a grove of aspen trees surrounding a one-room cabin where we stayed when we were checking the cattle or hunting in the fall on the Parker Range. The nights spent there are etched in my mind as being filled with rich storytelling and meals cooked over a wood-burning stove. The aspens bear the names of various Okerlund men carved with a date underneath in the soft bark, some dating back nearly one hundred years. 

Like most westerners, public lands are not only central to our sense of place, but they also trigger an innate duty of stewardship that is tied to our way of life. That familiarity and closeness with places like Parker Mountain sometimes skewed our stewardship ethos into an imagined sense of entitlement, a presumed right of primacy based on our time and proximity with the land. 

I succumbed to this myself one day as a teenager. Deer hunting season was an important ritual of my youth. Each October from the time I was eight years old until my Grandfather Okerlund died, we hunted deer on Parker Mountain. 

On the opening morning of the 1967 hunt, I had finally achieved the legal age for a hunting license, meaning I was able to legally carry a high-caliber rifle for the first time. I had contemplated that day for years and had a clear strategy in mind. The plan was to position myself on a ridge near the edge of the mountain at a place we called the Rim. As hunters became active that morning, I reasoned, the older bucks would seek shelter on the steep downslope. I clambered down to the preferred location. But once there, I discovered some hunters from California had positioned themselves in “my spot.” 

The Californians had as much legal right to be there as I had, but my sense of place convinced me otherwise, and it angered me. My feelings were very real, though quite misguided. But my experience helps illustrate why public land issues are so deeply held for Utahns and other westerners who were raised amid these public spaces. 

Land Ownership and Controversy 

Within Utah’s borders, the federal government owns 63.1 percent of the land mass, administratively managed by five agencies: the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), U.S. Forest Service, (USFS), National Park Service (NPS), Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), and Department of Defense (DOD). Only Nevada has a larger percentage of federal land ownership within its boundaries at 80.1 percent. 

The state of Utah also owns land, as do tribal governments. An aggregate of 89.5 percent of Utah’s 52,696,960 acres is held in some type of public ownership. To provide perspective on how dramatically different that is from other states, consider that the federal government owns only 0.69 percent of New York, 1.77 percent of Texas, 1.14 percent of Illinois and 47.70 percent of California.(1)

Because of strong restrictions on what activities are permitted on public lands, having a low percentage of private ownership has significant economic and cultural consequences. For example, no property taxes are collected by state and local governments, and job-creating economic activity is constrained. 

The differences in federal ownership among various states is primarily a function of when statehood was granted. In the early history of the United States, land was transferred into private hands through various forms of homesteading. This had the effect of allowing private individuals and organizations to make the land productive, creating jobs and economic prosperity. 

As the United States expanded west, public policy views changed. More and more of the land remained in public ownership. By the mid-twentieth century, the federal land and resource agencies had been established to oversee and manage the vast federal holdings. 

Despite the public ownership, private industries were developed on these lands too, as the westward expansion in the United States progressed. Those included mining, energy, livestock, and recreation interests, which formed the economic foundation of most rural communities in the West. 

Not surprisingly, interests collided and controversy became a near constant over issues such as use of the land, the roads that traversed them, mineral extraction, logging, and grazing. These issues fueled the small government and anti-government political instincts that tend to thrive in rural areas. And into that hotbed came yet another political player. 

During the 1960s and 1970s, the environmental movement took root in the United States. Groups like the Sierra Club and the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance (SUWA) became prominent and then advocated for setting millions of acres of public lands aside as pristine wilderness areas. These were well-financed efforts and organizations supported by wealthy families and interests, mostly from the eastern states, who saw themselves as saviors of public treasures. Residents of the small communities surrounding key tracts of public lands were often portrayed as exploiters or rubes. Business interests that had rights to use the land were seen as taking advantage of free or inexpensive land. Environmental groups used public campaigns aimed at legislating progressively more restrictions. 

During the years leading up to my election as governor, the earlier sense of federal/local partnership had deteriorated into conflict and distrust. Westerners called it the Sagebrush Rebellion. The wilderness and land preservationists countered with money and lawyers. 

Prior to running for governor, I had been part of an effort by the Coalition for Utah’s Future, a nonprofit think tank focused on problem-solving. The effort sought to become the honest broker between those with wilderness ambitions and those with economic interests, based on the notion that both sides had legitimate points of view. The group pursued a negotiation strategy, bringing in experts from around the country. Through that experience I learned the complexity of the issues involved and witnessed the unyielding postures of both sides. 

When I became governor, I was committed to pursuing a solution. Naively, I thought being a son of southern Utah, with a heritage of public land use, I could use the natural stature of the Governor’s Office to bring the two sides together, particularly since I also understood the logic of the preservationists and shared some of those views. I aspired to be a bridge builder. 

During my first eight years in office, Bill Clinton was president. Democrat ideology did not align with my views. However, I worked hard to develop respectful relationships with the federal officials who had the most influence. 

Every governor has a limited amount of time, attention units, and political capital that can be expended on any single issue. I liberally invested both time and political capital on public land issues involving land use, water, and roads. However, the enmity between the conservative land-use organizers and the progressive wilderness protection groups proved to be nearly intractable. Both sides preferred to fight. Most often those fights were in court, but sometimes physical violence was threatened and carried out. It was ugly and unproductive. In other writings I have compared public land issues to the conflicts between Arabs and Jews, where two groups feel the same land is sacred, but for different reasons, and for different purposes. Both sides thought time and history were on their side. The result was gridlock and distrust. 

No experience better epitomizes that polarization—and the way forward in the aftermath of a politicized land-use decision—than the designation of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in Utah in 1996, followed two years later by the largest federal-state land exchange in U.S. history. 

I have devoted most of this chapter to the land trade because it was a significant and lasting success and typifies many of my views on problem-solving. There are other disputes and initiatives highlighted as well, including an effort to define and promulgate a new formulation of environmental policy. The land exchange, however, was the most impactful and, one might say, monumental. 

Wilderness Disputes 

The most prominent and persistent Utah environmental issues were related to how public land could be used. The environmental movement had developed effective imagery around the idea of setting huge tracts of land aside as “wilderness areas.” Their legislation described wilderness in poetic phrases like “untrammeled by man” to essentially prohibit any kind of commercial or recreational use. There could be no roads, and vehicles of any sort were prohibited. 

The demands of these groups kept escalating. When I first became aware of these issues, environmental groups were focused on setting aside 1.3 million acres of land in Utah. By the conclusion of my state service, the amount they sought had skyrocketed to 8.9 million acres. 


1. Bruce Babbitt awarding down payment on land exchange

2. Down payment on the Utah land exchange, Bruce Babbit

3. Media announcement of land exchange in the Governor’s Board Room


Though it was unsettling to my rural constituents, I believed there was a lot of land in Utah that deserved and needed protection. However, I felt environmental groups were far too overreaching in their goals to restrict use. They wanted too much land and too much restriction. And I was of the view that wilderness laws were far too unimaginative. 

Laws provided only three classifications of protections: Conservation areas, the least restrictive; national parks, the second most restrictive; and wilderness, the most restrictive. I believed that new designation categories could be invented to provide strict protections to the most pristine land, along with less restrictive land management schemes that would provide protection that fit the situation. 

I had a superb team of public land advisors throughout my time as governor. Of course, my core team of senior staff was involved all along the way, but on this topic, I depended most on Brad Barber, John Harja, and Ted Stewart. Both Brad and John worked in the Office of Planning and Budget, while Ted was a cabinet member who headed the Department of Natural Resources. Later Glen Brown, a former speaker of the Utah House of Representatives, engaged with local officials on my behalf. Most important, these men were lovers of the land. They spent much of their free time hiking, kayaking, skiing, and exploring Utah’s back country, or in Glen’s case, working in agriculture. They had also worked at developing and maintaining good relationships on both sides of the public lands debate. 

Canyons of the Escalante, a National Eco-Region 

Some of Utah’s lands are so unique and sensitive they need to be protected in a way that preserves them in their pristine form in perpetuity. However, two major impasses always prevented that from happening. The first was finding agreement on how much land should be set aside. I advocated enacting legislation on the lands we could agree on. However, wilderness advocacy groups were reluctant to do so because they feared that once a wilderness bill passed the Congress, it would be hard to do more. Plus, there was a provision in the law that allowed the creation of “wilderness study areas,” which could be declared administratively. These wilderness study areas had to be managed as if they were actual wilderness until the lands’ status changed or they were released. This was intended to protect the areas from damage. Over time, millions of acres were placed in this ongoing study status, mostly by Democrat administrations. Wilderness groups were content with the temporary status. They felt time was on their side. 

The second barrier to the wilderness bill was agreeing on how the lands and those that surrounded them should be managed. The options were very limited. I believed various classifications allowing different forms of management needed to be created so that land managers had options providing for different degrees of protection. 

The tactic of the wilderness advocates was to choose a number like 3.7 million acres to be protected and then memorialize that number as the absolute minimum number of acres requiring protection. They would then periodically raise the number. Again, I thought the argument over a number was counterproductive. I felt we should agree upon a criterion and then designate all the land meeting that criteria as wilderness, no matter what the number. 

Tactically, I thought it was important for state officials to be for wilderness rather than against it. Truly, we were not against wilderness, we were for protecting the land. But our objection to the number made it look like we were against protection—which is exactly the way the wilderness groups wanted the issue framed. 

Working with my public lands team I began to frame a use-case strategy. I proposed we pick an area of the state where there was land so beautiful that nobody could disagree it needed protection. My plan was to single out a case as a laboratory to invent a new land-use management structure just for that piece of land. I believed we could construct a management plan that would allow us to have the most pristine land declared wilderness, the land around it managed as a protective barrier, and as we got farther away from the land, more development could be done to provide the infrastructure to support access to the protected area. Politically, it would position us as “for” wilderness while forcing the environmental community to align or be seen as “against” our efforts to protect land that all agreed should be protected. 

Working with other state officials, Ted Stewart, Brad Barber, and John Harja mapped an area of southern Utah, apportioning various lands to what we thought would be the right use mix, including pure wilderness. We did not want to redefine the wilderness designation, so we gave our new approach a unique name. I coined the name “National Eco-Region.” The proposal was very specific, including which lands would be designated for various degrees of protection. Once we had a solid draft of the idea, we sought an opportunity to discuss it privately with the Secretary of Interior, Bruce Babbitt. 

Bruce Babbitt had served as governor of Arizona, elected the same year as a predecessor of mine, Scott Matheson. Babbitt had also been chairman of the Democratic Governors Association, and we shared a passion for federalism. I often made a point of quoting some thoughtful speeches Babbitt had made during his time as governor about the overreach of the federal government. He routinely wore western clothing and clearly loved the West, but his love was the love of an environmentalist rather than a user of the land. He was a center-right Democrat but leaned further left on the environmental ideological scale. Despite our differences, I think it is safe to say, Bruce Babbitt and I liked each other. I sought him out and cultivated a genuine friendship, and he reciprocated. 

Bruce Babbitt and Mike Leavitt shaking hands
Bruce Babbitt and Mike Leavitt shake hands after signing the land exchange.

Midway through my first term in office, I arranged to meet Secretary Babbitt for dinner at the University Park Hotel in Salt Lake City. It was off schedule for both of us. We had dinner in a private room, and I brought Brad Barber and John Harja along with me. Babbitt had two of his closest advisers, Geoff Webb and Molly McUsic. 

Over dinner I described our thinking. Once we had finished eating, we cleared the table, and I described the concept of a more flexible and manageable land-designation format. Then, only lacking a drum roll and music, we rolled out maps across the dining table. Labeled at the top in large letters was “Canyons of the Escalante, a National Eco-Region.” 

“I'm afraid we have trouble.”

This was a bold proposal and Babbitt knew it. The uniqueness of a Republican governor making a public land proposal was not lost on him and, frankly, I think he was impressed. Neither of us was naïve about the difficulty of getting either side of the debate to accept it, not to mention the difficulty of getting Congress to pass it. 

After asking some questions and staring at the map, Babbitt turned to his staff and said something that included the words “national monument.” I had no context for the reference, but I thought it very curious at the time. I would find out fairly soon how consequential it may have been. 

Many years later, incidentally, Brad Barber and I had dinner at a Georgetown restaurant with Secretary Babbitt and Molly McUsic. That night, Babbitt provided a missing piece in my understanding of the political dynamics. It seems that just prior to the dinner where we had shared our national eco-region proposal, President Clinton’s political team, led by Dick Morris, a Republican consultant and outside adviser to the Democrat president, had recommended an interesting tactic. According to Babbitt, Morris told the president and his team that to solidify the support of environmental groups for the 1996 election, a bold public land initiative was needed to prove Clinton’s environmental bona fides. Morris had specifically proposed the declaration of a national monument in a state they had no chance of winning. 

Monumental Shock 

A year or two had passed after the University Park Hotel dinner. Nothing more was said. Then, on Saturday, September 7, 1996, I got a frantic call from Joanne Neumann, the head of my Washington D.C. office. “I’ve just faxed you an article from The Washington Post this morning. You need to read it. I’m afraid we have trouble.”(2)

I walked into my study. As the fax printout emerged, I read the words “national monument” and “southern Utah.” The Post reported only speculation. However, it was instantly evident to me that those pushing the monument idea had leaked the story to make it difficult for the administration to back down. 

I immediately reached out to members of Utah’s congressional delegation and their staffs, who were also alerted by the article. No one had heard anything about the idea, not even Utah’s congressman Jim Hansen, the ranking member of the House Natural Resources Committee. It is hard to exaggerate the level of public and private anxiety the news immediately generated. Nor is it easy to overstate the audacity and sheer political opportunism it represented. This was presidential power being used to perform a sneak attack with one objective in mind: bolstering Bill Clinton’s standing with the environmental community for a presidential election less than eight weeks away. In the context of Utah public land history, this was Pearl Harbor. 

Early Monday morning, I began making phone calls to Secretary Babbitt. There really is no conclusion other than on that day, he was not honest with me. He said he was “not involved in the discussions” and that I should call the White House. I’m sympathetic to the awkwardness of the direct questions I asked him. I suspected then, and know now, that he had been sworn to secrecy about a process he had been deeply involved in. However, what he told me was at best a deliberate diversion from the truth. 

“While there had been a discussion, no decision had been made.”

I next called the White House as Babbitt suggested. Marcia Hale was my point of contact at the White House. She was the director of Intergovernmental Affairs, a role of importance, but not substantial prominence in policymaking. Hale said she was not certain where the article came from, but she would find out if it was a serious proposal. 

Two days went by. On Wednesday, September 11, 1996, Hale called me back and said, “While there had been a discussion, no decision had been made.” 

I asked, “What is the timing on this matter?” 

“Well,” she said, “that is what the decision is.” 

“That doesn’t sound to me like a decision that hasn’t been made,” I said. “It sounds to me a decision has been made, and you are just trying to decide when you should announce it.” 

She hesitated, and then said, “Well, I think we were a little ahead of ourselves on that piece.” 

“Marcia, the administration you are part of is about to set aside a piece of land in my state the size of the state of Delaware and Rhode Island combined, yet nobody is admitting it. It seems very clear to me that I need to speak with the president on this matter, soon. If he’s not able to see me, I want to talk to Leon Panetta [the chief of staff].” 

Later that week, an appointment with Leon Panetta was confirmed, but it was not until the following Tuesday. 

On Friday of that week, September 13, my office became aware through the news media that there was an important environmental announcement planned for the Grand Canyon the following week. Preparations were already being made by environmental groups for transportation to the Grand Canyon for the announcement. This amped up the anxiety and concern even further. 

Late Friday afternoon, Babbitt called and invited me to an emergency meeting in his office the next day. While it was nice of him to call personally, I can’t imagine the impossibility of me physically being in his office the next day was not lost on him. However, I knew the congressional delegation would be there and that this meeting was a window-dressing effort. The sense of inevitability continued to grow. 

The weekend was a blur of phone calls and meetings with local government officials. They sought reassurances I could not provide. Despite the news that buses were being organized to take Utahns to Arizona for the announcement, the White House still refused to confirm the event, let alone tell us where and when it might be held. That evening, I traveled to Washington for meetings with the congressional delegation and Leon Panetta. 

On Tuesday, September 17, I met with Panetta. Marcia Hale and other members of the White House staff also attended our meeting. Joanne Neumann and (I believe) Brad Barber attended with me. 

Panetta had previously represented northern California in Congress. He had a reputation as being candid and a man of good judgment. Later, in the Obama Administration, he was first director of the CIA and later appointed Secretary of Defense. 

Panetta lived up to his reputation as a candid policy-thinker. He told me that he was responsible for making a recommendation to the president, and that Leon had set aside the afternoon to prepare for the monument itself. He had invited Katie McGinty, chair of the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ), an entity within the White House complex tasked to coordinate environmental issues. I later learned that most of the planning for the monument had occurred secretly in McGinty’s office and that she led the process. 

At the beginning of the meeting with Panetta, I rolled out a large map of Utah like a scroll on the rectangular conference table and allowed it to cascade in front of the group—a bit reminiscent of the eco-regions meeting held with Babbitt roughly two years earlier. We had highlighted in yellow the 1.8 million acres of land in the approximate area we expected the monument declaration to cover. Then, to make an important point, I quietly laid on top of the yellow-colored monument, paper cutouts, in scale, of Delaware, Rhode Island, and the District of Columbia. They fit comfortably inside the yellow-colored area. 

“This approach provides the flexibility to affix the right protection to every piece of land in the highlighted area.”

My first objective was to make clear that our protest was not based on an aversion to protecting the land. In fact, we had advanced initiatives to protect the land years earlier. Our objection was the complete abandonment of public process and their deliberate attempts at deception. The main message: This is not the way democracy is supposed to work. 

Given what I knew about event preparations and the president’s schedule, I did not have the expectation that we could stop them. However, my hope was to create a bit of leverage on processes that I knew would follow. 

I recounted the history of my Canyons of the Escalante National Eco-Region proposal and put out another map illustrating the geography in southern Utah that it covered—the delineations nearly a perfect overlay to their ultimate monument. I described how our proposal had resulted from an intergovernmental public planning process that I had initiated among state, local, and federal land managers who worked together for over a year. I summarized why the approach was superior to a national monument proposal: “This approach provides the flexibility to affix the right protection to every piece of land in the highlighted area. A monument has little flexibility.” Ironically, the most pristine areas would have been afforded much more aggressive protection under the eco-region proposal than what was ultimately proposed. 

Our maps also showed small square plots of land evenly dispersed throughout the entire state. Panetta asked quizzically what they were. Each square represented land owned by the school children of Utah. “They are called school trust lands, and they represent a significant problem that you haven’t thought through,” I explained. It was evident that Leon Panetta, Katie McGinty, or any others knew anything about most of the issues their declaration would create. 

Our meeting lasted just under an hour. As we finished, Panetta told me that it was the first time that he had had a chance to really focus on the issue. He reiterated that he would make a recommendation to the president that afternoon and stated that he didn’t like making decisions in a vacuum like this. 

We stood up to leave. Panetta said, “You have made a compelling case.” 

As we shook hands, I looked him directly in the eye and said, “If this is compelling to you, then before the president sets aside a piece of land equal to the state of Rhode Island, Delaware, and the District of Columbia combined, he needs to hear the same information directly from the governor of the state. I cannot imagine a ‘Governor Clinton’ would feel good about this happening, in this way, to the state of Arkansas.” 

“You’re right,” he said, “You deserve that. The president is campaigning in Illinois and Michigan today, but he will call you tonight after his events.” 

Throughout the nine days between learning about the monument proposal and my meeting with Leon Panetta, there were several people whose lack of candor caused me to respect them less. My interaction with Leon Panetta, however, had the opposite effect. He listened to me carefully. He asked good questions. And at the end, he responded frankly by telling me that he was unhappy with the way the process played out, he knew it was a terrible process, and that it was not something he was proud of. 

However, he was also honest with me. We both knew that as we spoke, bleachers and staging were being set up on the north rim of the Grand Canyon in Arizona for an event announcing a national monument in Utah. The price of trying to stop it was higher than the president would be willing to pay, even if he didn’t feel good about it either. 

“This is the White House operator; can you take a call from the President?”

The die was cast. Wrong or not, twenty-four hours later, a national monument in Utah would be created by the stroke of the presidential pen. In future years, I served as a member of the president’s cabinet twice, spending a lot of time in the Oval Office. I became intimately familiar with how important decisions should be made in the White House. The secrecy and dishonesty used to execute this plan were morally wrong. 

Joanne Neumann, Brad Barber, and I met my security detail on the street between the West Wing and the Old Executive Office Building and exited through the large, black, iron security gate in order to proceed down Pennsylvania Avenue toward Utah’s office in the Hall of States. As we traveled, my focus turned to two questions: what should our message and policy posture be on the monument, and how could I use my phone call with the president later in the evening to position us to impact the details and implementation of the national monument? 

Phone Call to President Clinton 

It is easy in politics to be swept away by the tide of outrage and indignation that accompanies partisan political conflict. I knew there would be a torrent of anger in Utah and that the conflict was all part of the Clinton scripting. Ironically, protests in Utah and elsewhere in the West were exactly what created the political opportunity for Clinton’s campaign. The presidential order had no political cost to them. Clinton had finished behind both President George H.W. Bush and Ross Perot in Utah in 1992, so he didn’t have a prayer of winning Utah in 1996. All the outrage in Utah would be like the background music in a movie. In this scene, the president of the United States stands with the Grand Canyon as his backdrop and boldly demonstrates his environmental fidelity while the land users and abusers back in Utah snarled. Utah’s anger made it that much sweeter for them. 

To people outside Utah, this was just another story on the nightly news. A few people outside Utah would understand the significance and unfairness, but not many. Back Utah, however, the wording of the president’s declaration really mattered to the future of southern Utah. 

The declaration would be the start of a process, not the end. Clinton would likely win a second term, and our relationship with his administration would be far more important after the monument designation than before, so I needed to keep my focus on the long game. So, our messaging on the monument’s creation needed to be sufficiently strong to communicate our objection but done with enough dignity to preserve our capacity to work productively in protecting our future interests. 

The call from the president that Panetta promised needed to be the beginning of our messaging strategy. There was no need to pretend my purpose was to dissuade him from acting. However, it was important that I express our disapproval and disappointment over the manner of their action in a way that would create some useful guilt. I then needed to use my knowledge of the area and situation to minimize the damage they could do through sloppiness. 

“The momentum of the event has simply made it impossible to do anything but move forward with it.”

Not knowing the president’s exact schedule, I spent the entire evening in my hotel room waiting for his call. His events were in the central time zone, so I assumed the call would come after 10 p.m. eastern time. When midnight passed, I began to think the call wasn’t going to happen. Even with the advantage of having my body clock operating on mountain time, by 1:00 a.m. I decided to go to sleep. 

At 1:58 a.m., my telephone rang. Jolted from a shallow sleep, I bobbled the handset, trying to simultaneously get the light on with the other hand. 

“This is the White House operator; can you take a call from the President?” 

I felt like I knew Bill Clinton by that time. We had been together on many occasions, had other phone conversations, and corresponded privately on multiple occasions. So, our conversation was not foreign or awkward. He apologized for calling so late. I, of course, responded that I was appreciative of him calling. 

The president told me that he was just beginning to review the recommendation he had received from Leon Panetta. Neither he nor Panetta liked the process being used on this, he said. “However, the momentum of the event has simply made it impossible to do anything but move forward with it.” 

One might think it odd that at 1:58 a.m. on the morning he is going to create a national monument affecting a significant portion of a state, that the president is just reviewing the proposal for the first time. It is astonishing, but his comments in combination with Leon Panetta’s reveal an important part of the Grand Staircase story. 

The White House is like an air traffic control tower overseeing five hundred airplanes circling the airport at the same time, with each one of the planes convinced they are running out of fuel or preparing for an emergency landing. To the people sitting aboard the five hundred planes, the situation is a matter of life and death. To the air traffic controller, each plane is another routine task that needs to be handled during the day. 

At any given moment in time, there are hundreds of federal government issues that need action. Each issue is important to someone. Consequently, everything that happens at the White House is a high priority, and many matters are, in fact, life and death situations. Presidents cannot manage all of the tasks circling the airport. So, a systematic means of managing those issues has to be in place so that solutions are seriously considered, questioned, and weighed on behalf of the president. An environmental issue like the creation of a national monument would very clearly have been given to the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) within the White House to coordinate. The issue would then be reported to the chief of staff, who would make a recommendation to the president and schedule presidential decision time in the Oval Office where a final decision would be made. Once the president had approved the action, an event to announce the decision would be scheduled and executed. President Bush used to say, “That’s why they call it the Oval Office. There are no corners to hide in.” 

“Utahns are not going to like this announcement. But they love the land involved.”

Leon Panetta was unhappy about the way the issue was unfolding because the event had been scheduled before he had ever seen the recommendation. He didn’t like what he saw, but there was nothing he could do about it. This also explains why Bill Clinton was seeing the recommendation for the first time. 

I feel quite certain it was an idea concocted by Team Babbitt at the Department of Interior, working hand in glove with national environmental groups. Their proposal was given to CEQ to manage. I’m confident that both Panetta and the president were aware of and conceptually liked the idea of creating a national monument. However, the Clinton presidential campaign and environmental organizations clearly took over the process. Somebody got worried that the White House might start asking questions and therefore delay the event, so they leaked the existence of the monument proposal to The Washington Post, making it impossible for the administration to back out. 

Back to my call with the president. I gave a condensed version of the arguments I had given Panetta. Basically I told him, “We want to protect this land, too. We made a proposal that protects the land better. The fact that the monument is being sprung as a surprise, even after being denied all week, is morally wrong. The fact that the White House has discussed this with the governors of other states, but not Utah, is a clear indication of the political nature.” I also repeated my belief that if the reverse had occurred—a different federal administration had done this to Clinton while he was governor of Arkansas—he would not feel good about it. 

That was the point where the president, like Panetta, expressed his disappointment in the process and said, “But we are not in a position to slow it down now.” 

At that point I pivoted. “Mr. President, I have expressed clearly how I feel about this. However, it is clear to me that you are going to issue an executive order tomorrow and it is important that it say the right things. I would like you to consider some suggestions that would make the management of a monument better.” 

Among the suggestions was a solution to the school trust lands problem. I explained that these lands would be a source of litigation and make the management of a monument difficult. I invoked the name of former Governor Scott Matheson and described a project Matheson had started to trade school trust lands inside sensitive federal tracts for areas that could be developed. I told Clinton that the order should include instruction to Secretary Babbitt to commence a process to negotiate a land trade to free the value they were trapping within the monument. 

Finally, I said, “Utahns are not going to like this announcement. But they love the land involved. We need to be involved in its planning and management. If you will mandate local and state government participation in the planning and management of this land, I will personally make sure you have the best resources in Utah to help.” 

President Clinton seemed to like the idea of a school trust land exchange and agreed that we needed local and state participation in the planning and management. He was noncommittal on the energy issues involved—Grand Staircase encompassed the Kaiparowits Plateau, where one of the richest deposits of low-sulfur coal in the U.S. was being leased by Andalex Resources Inc., a Dutch mining company. Andalex was far along in the environmental permitting and approval process when the monument designation occurred. I told Clinton there might come a day when the nation would regret locking up a massive clean-coal resource. Stopping the Kaiparowits mining operation and what the administration called the “industrialization” of southern Utah had been the objective of monument proponents all along. Several Clinton administration figures flatly stated it years later, almost with a boastful air, that preventing coal development was the primary motivation for the monument. 

By this time, it was 2:30 a.m. in Washington and 1:30 a.m. where Clinton was. We were both very tired. I offered to write a memo that he could read in the morning when he was fresher. He said that would be helpful, adding, “Get it to Leon. I’ll read it in the morning.” 

We said goodbye, and I sat alone thinking about what had just happened. 

This was 1996, before we carried laptops or tablets. So, if the memo was to be in the president’s hand in time to make a difference, it needed to be there when he arrived at the office in just a few hours. The desk in the hotel room had stationery. I turned it over and, using the plain backside, I handwrote a multi-page draft memo to the president of the United States. I edited it and handwrote the final version. I then called the White House switchboard and tried to explain to a skeptical operator that I was the governor of Utah, and could she provide me with a fax number for the chief of staff? 

At 4:30 a.m. in the morning, I walked to the front desk of the hotel and asked them to fax it to the president’s temporary quarters in Illinois. At 7:30 a.m. in the morning, I spoke with Panetta. He had reviewed my memo and again indicated that he felt my ideas had merit. He said he would be reviewing the matter again with the president, who had to leave shortly to fly to Arizona. 

Later in the morning, Panetta called to inform me that the monument would be announced. He detailed the conditions of monument designation, which gratefully incorporated some of the suggestions that I had made relative to water and wildlife access and regarding the planning process with local and state participation. 

On September 18, 1996, President Bill Clinton stood at the north rim of the Grand Canyon in Arizona to declare the creation of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in Utah. It consisted of 1.7 million acres of land in Garfield and Kane Counties. No member of Congress, no local official, and no state official from Utah was invited. 

There is some evidence my early morning call with the president was not ignored. In a personal interview with Brad Barber, John Andrews, and Kevin Carter, Brad relayed what he had been told by John Leshy, the general counsel at the Department of Interior, about the president’s reception of the memo and how that impacted the monument declaration. In Brad’s words: “John Leshy was on Air Force One with the president. They were working on the declaration as they flew to Arizona. They received the governor’s memo on Air Force One and were literally changing the proclamation to touch valid points he made in the memo.”(3) 

Public Lands, Unsettled Aftermath 

Congressional investigations, court challenges, hearings, and subpoenas followed in the wake of the monument designation for months afterward. The more that was learned, the more appalling the process abuses seemed. Information gained in various investigations demonstrated with clarity that the work on this effort had been done at the Department of Interior and then transferred to the White House’s Council on Environmental Quality office. The work at Interior was concealed and even denied. 

Confidentiality is an important part of deliberation. However, the undertaking of a public action this consequential with no public input or notice violates the very essence of an orderly democracy. Even when the existence of the proposal became known, officials with intimate knowledge of the details flatly denied anything was happening. It was disheartening to observe deception used in this way. 

Did they lie? Yes. However, in Washington, D.C., unless you are testifying under oath, this kind of untruthfulness is considered to be in the category of a head fake by a running back making his way down field. Nobody was operating under oath at this point. There was clear dishonesty, complete with motive. Proposals coming from agencies and departments are subject to congressional oversight under the National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA). Proposals from the president—the White House—are not. So, it was critical to the success of their secret plan that they give the full impression that it was a presidential proposal. 

Additionally, in 1976, the nation made an important public policy decision when Congress passed the landmark Federal Land Policy and Management Act (FLPMA). It required great deliberation and careful process in determining how public lands would be used. That act and other related legislation contains protections for state and local communities. 

The Clinton administration circumvented both of those laws and safeguards by using the Antiquities Act, a neat trick which allows a chief executive to unilaterally create a monument in what has become an increasingly brazen abuse of power. 

“The White House wanted to protect a pretty large area, to put the industrialization issue to bed, to stop the possibility of coal development.”

The Antiquities Act of 1906 was originally intended to provide emergency power to protect Native American artifacts and objects of historic and scientific importance, not to create sweeping monuments of a million-plus acres, with minimal regard for the relationship between the land and the local economy. The Act specifically states, too, that the area set aside for protection must in all cases be “confined to the smallest area compatible with the proper care and management of the objects to be protected.” Our system of government was constructed to prevent one person from having that much power without checks or balances from another source. 

The Antiquities Act also has a downside. What one president can do with a pen and a podium at the North Rim, another can undo or unravel. This indeed occurred when Donald Trump assumed the presidency in 2017 and proceeded to downsize both Grand Staircase and the newer Bears Ears National Monument that was created by Barack Obama in his final twenty-three days in office in 2016. Joe Biden, in turn, restored the original boundaries when he succeeded President Trump in 2021. 

Congressional action, had it not been preempted by executive overreach, would have required more time and debate. It also would have provided a solid, enduring foundation. 

In time, the truth came out—sometimes under subpoena for congressional hearings; other times in former officials’ own self-interested recollections in interviews about the undemocratic process that occurred. 

Interior Department Solicitor John Leshy revealed the primary motivation for the monument eighteen years after the fact in an interview he gave the Southern Utah Oral History Project about Grand Staircase, telling interviewer Marsha Holland that he was asked by CEQ Chairman Kathleen McGinty to put the monument proposal together. 

“Katie’s instructions to me on size were rather general; the White House wanted to protect a pretty large area, to put the industrialization issue to bed, to stop the possibility of coal development,” he said. 

With no apparent awareness of the irony, Leshy noted a bit later in the interview, “Other than preventing mineral-based industrialization, we wanted to avoid unnecessary conflicts.”(4) 

In emails and memos obtained by the House Resources Committee after the fact, McGinty essentially states that the benefits of the monument designation were more political than environmental, and that the lands within the monument boundaries were “not environmentally threatened.” 

“I’m increasingly of the view that we should just drop these Utah ideas. We do not really know how the enviros will react and I do think there is a danger of ‘abuse’ of the withdraw/antiquities authorities especially because these lands are not really endangered,” McGinty said in a March 25, 1996, email to a colleague, six months before the monument announcement. 

The administration’s obsessive secrecy was documented multiple times: once in a letter from Leshy to Charles Wilkinson, the University of Colorado law professor who helped draft the proclamation. Leshy stated, “I can’t emphasize confidentiality too much. If word leaks out, it probably won’t happen, so take care.” Another time it was reinforced in a memo from McGinty, to another official at the White House. That one warned that “any public release of the information will probably foreclose the president’s option to proceed.”(5) All in all, there was a deliberate strategy of dishonesty. Confidentiality per se is not dishonesty, but pretending to not know, when you have clear knowledge, is. 

Lemonade from Lemons: A Management Plan and Land Exchange 

The Grand Staircase Monument declaration was conceived of and carried out as a means of consolidating Bill Clinton’s standing among voters who cared deeply about environmental issues. It had the impact they intended. Clinton was reelected, defeating Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole. I also won reelection. Ironically, the controversy likely helped my standing, too. It strengthened my support in rural areas, like Carbon County, where Republicans rarely win. I was the first statewide candidate in Utah history to win every county, garnering nearly 75 percent against Salt Lake County Commissioner Jim Bradley. Bill Orton, a four-term congressman who was Utah’s only Democrat member of Congress at the time, was defeated by Chris Cannon. His district included most of the monument.(6) 

With the Clinton Administration in place for a second term, the political dynamics that fueled the monument and subsequent land exchange were suddenly less prominent. This was a time when the Clintonites needed to finish what they had started. In early February of 1997, I attended the National Governors Association mid-year meeting in Washington, D.C., and arranged to see Bruce Babbitt privately as part of that trip. My purpose was to follow up on the accommodations the president made during our early morning call in September 1996, and to measure whether Babbitt was willing to shift into problem-solving mode. I had two objectives in mind. The first was to establish state and local government participation in the creation of a management plan for the new monument. My second and most pressing item was to test Babbitt’s willingness to have a serious discussion about a land exchange involving school trust lands that were within the boundaries of the new monument. I sensed an opportunity. 

Through the week, I had conversations with Babbitt both in his office and as part of various meetings at the White House. I gained Babbitt’s assurance that local and state government officials would be allowed to participate in the creation of the monument management plan. I restated my commitment to deploy our best resources and to do all I could to make it successful. 

Babbitt and I also agreed to begin exploring an exchange proposal. Specifically, we concluded to have my public land team of Brad Barber and John Harja meet with Geoff Webb, who had been a leader of the Grand Canyon Trust prior to joining Babbitt at the Interior Department in Washington. Their meetings would develop a plan of exploration. Both Babbitt and I sensed a window of opportunity and intuitively knew we had to move boldly to capture it. 

Development of a Monument Management Plan 

When a president issues an executive order or Congress passes a law, the words of the document essentially frame the required actions. Normally, these documents do not get into the details of execution; those provisions are delegated to various departments of the executive branch to work out the gritty details. What happens in that process has profound effects at ground level and is really what determines the future of the required actions. 

County governments and others were still furious. Litigation was a certainty. However, I knew the Clinton administration strategy would be to move quickly. They needed to have the national monument fully implemented within three years, and Utah’s local and state government needed to be at the table. The document containing these plans was to be called the Monument Management Plan. 

President Clinton and Secretary Babbitt kept their commitment to involve state and local government involvement, and I lived up to my commitment as well, ordering state agencies to engage, and to be productive collaborators. Local governments grudgingly participated but pushed forward with the litigation. 

Because I felt the Clinton Administration was working on the management plan in good faith, I declined to allow the State of Utah to be a party to the litigation. This was viewed by local governments and many conservatives with suspicion and disappointment. However, I felt the state’s involvement would result in little gain and would diminish any chance of achieving a rational management plan and a land exchange. 

I will not provide details of the management plan development process. Jerry Meredith, a career Bureau of Land Management (BLM) manager, was appointed to head the process. I always found him to be fair and collaborative. He had gotten along well with Utah government officials and local citizens but now had to endure the newly stoked wrath of people mad about the monument process and the past. He ran the planning operation out of the Cedar City, Utah, BLM office. The process followed the pattern of many collaborative discussions. It was often tense, but over time, relationships began to form, and the hostility tempered some. 

John Leshy, Kerry Steadman, Geoff Webb Bruce Babbitt and Mike Leavitt
Discussing the boundary lines of the new land deal in the front room of the Loa farmhouse. John Leshy, Kerry Steadman, Geoff Webb, Bruce Babbitt, and Mike Leavitt

A Land Exchange 

Clearly one of the most difficult issues in the management planning process was how to resolve issues related to school trust lands located inside the monument. This was sticky for both the state and the federal government. 

A bit of background: School trust lands are sections of land that were granted to the school children of Utah at statehood by Congress, with the provision that revenues earned from the sale or lease of the land be placed into permanent endowments for twelve specific institutions, primarily public education. When Utah became a state in 1896, the federal government granted Utah’s school children two sections of land out of every thirty-six sections across the entirety of the state. On a map, the school parcels show up as a patchwork of squares across the state. At statehood, these lands constituted over nine percent of the total land mass of Utah. 

To illustrate size and quantity, Figure 1 is a map of Emery County, with small boxes representing trust land parcels arrayed across the county. 

Representing trust land parcels arrayed across the county. 

Similar grants were made to other states when their statehood was established. The idea was formulated by Thomas Jefferson under a constitutional doctrine intended to ensure that children in the new nation would be educated. 

Utah’s school lands exist within lands managed by the Forest Service, the BLM, and National Park Service, and are administered by the state’s School and Institutional Trust Lands Administration (SITLA). Created in 1994 by the Utah Legislature, SITLA manages 3.4 million acres of trust land, generating revenue through energy and mineral leases, rent, and royalties; real estate development and sales; and surface estate sales, leases, and easements. SITLA deposits all proceeds into permanent endowments for each beneficiary. Since 1994, SITLA has generated $1.96 billion in revenue to help grow all permanent funds to $2.5 billion.(7) 

To say the school trust lands presented a conundrum in the wake of the Grand Staircase designation was a considerable understatement. I was committed to resolving it. 

At our February 1997 meeting, Bruce Babbitt and I agreed that once the monument planning process had been initiated, we would begin to informally look at the prospects of a land exchange as a means of resolving the school trust lands issues. We both viewed such an arrangement as separate from the planning process. Finding a way to trade the school lands for something outside the monument would be the best solution. So, once management planning got under way, our thoughts turned toward the exchange. 

The process was not starting completely from scratch. During the term of Governor Scott Matheson, a process had been initiated to identify school trust lands that could be traded for federal land. For example, if there was a piece of federal land on the edge of a city that could be traded for a piece of land within the boundary of a national park, such a trade would advantage both the federal and the state-local interest. The operating theory is that a city could develop the land, putting it to good use. In turn, the federal government could shield lands situated within the national park from development. 

Governor Matheson called his process Project BOLD. Land trade proposals were made, but differences of opinion among appraisers always prevented the consummation of meaningful transactions. 

Based on Matheson’s uncompleted work, once again in 1993 federal legislation was passed by Congress outlining a process to exchange school trust lands within national parks for other federal lands. These lands were referred to as “inholdings.” However, by the spring of 1997, it was clear this inholdings process was going to suffer the same failed fate as Project BOLD. It had become mired in the same morass of valuation disputes among state and federal appraisers. 

In the process of pursuing an exchange under the 1993 inholdings bill, a team from the School and Institutional Trust Lands Administration—which included senior, mid-level SITLA executives Kevin Carter, Jim Cooper, and John Andrews—had developed detailed proposals on the land they wanted, and the land that would be appealing to the federal government in exchange. Brad Barber and John Harja had worked closely with the SITLA team in this process. 

Circumstances Align for Action 

For large master strokes to occur in public policy, it takes more than a good idea based on sound logic. Unique circumstances must produce a “magic moment” where seemingly impossible things become possible. During the months after the 1996 election and my February meeting with Secretary Babbitt, I had begun to see the potential for a magic moment to occur in the form of a large land exchange. It was like standing next to a table where a large, scattered series of jigsaw puzzle pieces sit. Initially, you notice how one or two of them might fit together. Once you successfully link those pieces together, it becomes clear where others fit. Within a short time, you have a vision or plan to accomplish something quite transformative. At the time, I may not have articulated every element of why we believed a historic land exchange could happen. However, I believed it was the right thing to do, and we were willing to try. 

In retrospect, I believe six different conditions aligned that made a magic moment possible: 

Common Pain

Rich McKeown and I wrote a book titled Finding Allies, Building Alliances, which discusses the elements that must exist for problems to be solved collaboratively. The first necessary element is “common pain.” Successful, collaboratively solved problems always have a reason people are energized enough to do hard things together. Without this energizing purpose, the parties will devote their energy units and resources to something else. Common pain and purpose existed here. The Clinton Administration needed to develop a management plan for the new monument. The existence of school trust lands inside the monument made life complicated for both the state and the federal governments. 

Kevin Carter, Jim Cooper, and John Andrews of SITLA made a point to remind federal land managers at every opportunity that the school children of Utah owned land within the boundaries of the monument. They perpetually spoke out about the need for roads sufficient to service the development they planned. Kevin told me later: 

As an agency, we participated in every one of those public hearings. And our message was consistent. ‘While you’re doing your planning, make sure you plan a road into every school section, because we’re going to demand access, that we legally have, into those school sections and we are going to develop every one of those inside the monument.’ I’m sure they [the federal land managers] got the message. 

Monument planners did not want to deal with hotels and recreation businesses, mining, and agriculture within the monument. 

It is doubtful to me whether the state could enforce a right-of-access. The threat was political. Clinton’s term as president would be ending in less than three years, and at that point there was a chance another administration could have taken a different direction. 

There was equilibrium of risk and benefit to resolving the issues by getting the school trust lands out of the monument. Put another way, both sides felt the capacity the other side had to complicate their lives, and both sides were motivated. 

Conveners of Stature Committed to Getting Something Done 

The second requirement McKeown and I wrote about in Finding Allies was the existence of “conveners of stature.” Bruce Babbitt and I played that role. 

Prior to becoming Secretary of Interior, Bruce Babbitt had been governor of Arizona. Not only did he understand the frustrations I had as a western governor, but he had also been close with Scott Matheson while Matheson was working to negotiate Project BOLD, and Babbitt knew of Matheson's frustration. Furthermore, Babbitt had worked on getting land exchanges done in Arizona while he was governor. He had spoken to me and others directly about how unproductive the process had been. 

Another important component related to our success was the fact that Babbitt and I had built a personal relationship of trust. Our relationship had been tested and tempered by difficult situations. When local Utah governments sued over the creation of Grand Staircase, I refused to allow the state of Utah to be party to the suits. I made that decision because I did not feel the case would succeed, and while I was as angry as anybody else, I knew the moment would come where I would need to work with Babbitt going forward. If I involved the state of Utah, it would damage the trust between us. Likewise, I had worked productively on other problems and tried not to behave in a partisan way. Babbitt and I were aligned as conveners of this process. The fact is, we liked each other and had a highly respectful relationship. Both of us were motivated to get something done. In the end, Babbitt’s willingness to lean forward on the federal side made all the difference. 

Congressional Champions 

Sound proposals often fail to gain any traction in Congress. Congressional champions are an absolute necessity for ideas to gain a place on the congressional agenda. 

During the period the Grand Staircase Monument played out, the national government was divided between Republicans and Democrats. Republicans controlled Congress and Bill Clinton, a Democrat, was president. 

In the Republican-led Congress, the most important person to this deal was the chairman of the powerful Natural Resources Committee in the House of Representatives. It was no small irony and a huge factor, in my opinion, that we could get a deal done because Jim Hansen, congressman of Utah’s 1st Congressional District, was that very powerful chairman. Likewise, Senator Bob Bennett was a senior member of the Senate’s Energy and Natural Resources Committee. Senator Orrin Hatch was also one of the Senate’s most powerful committee chairmen. Utah had never had more congressional influence. 

A President Willing to Sign a Bill into Law 

It should be acknowledged that President Bill Clinton had enormous respect for Scott Matheson. They had served together as governors. Though Scott Matheson died in 1990 just before Clinton launched his quest for the presidency, the Matheson family had supported Clinton early. President Clinton spoke of Matheson often when we were together and was aware of Matheson’s disappointment in failing to pass Project Bold. 

Clinton seemed conscious of the ham-handedness that was used in creating the Grand Staircase National Monument, and he was supportive of Babbitt’s efforts to finish the job. But, no matter Clinton’s motivations, the signature of a president on the legislation was necessary, and as we contemplated moving forward, getting that signature was clearly achievable. 

An Achievable Pathway 

The 1993 legislation authorizing the negotiations between states and the federal government on inholdings was based on finding lands of comparable value. This had to be done by having appraisals made of land values and trading lands according to their perceived worth. Appraising public land of the nature we were dealing with is extraordinarily complex. Value is a relative thing, and the federal government did not always value the land in economic terms. Assigning an economic value to aesthetic beauty, rarity, or historic past is a highly subjective process. This was the thing that had frustrated then-Governor Babbitt the most in negotiating in Arizona. 

John Andrews of SITLA confirmed the ongoing problem with appraisals during the inholdings process: 

We were fighting over appraisals. The parties were miles apart and the exchange had an out-clause that allowed the valuations to be litigated, and it was headed for litigation. This was an absolute roadblock. The leadership of the BLM side let their appraisers control the process. 

We later heard from Secretary Babbitt that he enjoyed kicking the appraisers out of the room because it had caused such a logjam. It was clear that process was failing. 

Babbitt and I both believed land-for-land swaps, informed by supporting data, was a far more reasoned way to approach these problems. This was a critical difference from previous land exchange failures. We were able to align on a common vision of what success would look like. It would be a land-for-land exchange that was populated by information about values (measured in various ways) but not a mathematical exercise of matching dollars. 

A Giant Head Start in Developing a Fair Proposal 

Land exchange activities had been sporadically occurring for several years between the state of Utah and various federal agencies. While the inholdings negotiations were fruitless, they had caused managers on SITLA’s negotiating team to develop detailed inventories of opportunities for exchange. Kevin Carter, Jim Cooper, and John Andrews were highly respected as members of the team of local and state officials I brought to the table. They had respectful relations with the federal agencies. When crunch time came, everyone respected their opinions enough to accept their proposals as a starting place for the negotiations. The years they spent studying the lands and thinking about the various types of value that needed to be considered made it possible for the process to move with the required speed. 

My own public lands team of John Harja and Brad Barber also knew the state lands inventory well. They had participated in the development of the proposal that Carter, Cooper, and Andrews put together and had great confidence in it. Therefore, we knew that an effort to get a deal would not start from scratch but would benefit from the frustrating efforts of the past. 

The Pressure to Get Something Done, Now

Political opportunities dissipate quickly. It was evident to me that we needed to move quickly or this effort would fail. Once the management plan started in earnest, it would begin to affect things. Likewise, there would be another presidential and congressional election in two years, and as Clinton’s term started ticking to an end, action would be harder to muster. 

The Process Unfolds 

The meetings Secretary Babbitt and I held in Washington, D.C., in February 1997 accomplished both of my objectives. My first priority was to affirm the secretary’s willingness to have local and state government representatives directly involved in the development of the management planning process. It may seem odd that it was even a question, but national environmental organizations actively opposed the idea. I was reassured by his commitment. 

As for the second priority, Babbitt signaled a willingness to explore the land exchange involving school trust lands within the monument, and meetings were set to have Brad Barber and John Harja meet with Geoff Webb to discuss ideas. 

Some weeks later, Brad and John spent multiple days with Webb in New Mexico, reporting back that they had developed a plan under which both my office and the secretary’s office would appoint personal representatives to begin inventorying opportunities for the land exchange. 

I agreed to the plan and promptly appointed Barber and Harja as my representatives. Geoff Webb and Molly McUsic would represent Babbitt. 

A short time later, Babbitt and I both reviewed the proposal and approved it. It was our expectation that this would not be a mapping exercise; we wanted this discussion to take place on the actual land. We wanted both teams to visit key areas in question and develop logic as a group. We also committed to keep the deliberations completely confidential. 

Brad and John were fully aware that the troika of Kevin Carter, Jim Cooper, and John Andrews at SITLA had been working on possible components of an exchange for several years by virtue of the inholdings legislation in 1993. At various times, Brad and John brought the SITLA team into the discussion to seek their advice on various pieces of land. As time progressed, Kevin, Jim, and John Andrews became more and more involved and accepted by Geoff and Molly as an intricate part of the negotiations. Both Geoff and Molly were extraordinarily capable, but they had the disadvantage of focusing on these lands only periodically as they made repeated trips to the state over many months. 

As the two teams worked together through the balance of 1997, three things became clear: First, we could not succeed unless this became a land-for-land exchange. The appraisal process prescribed in the 1993 Inholdings Act was producing failure. Second, the opportunities inventory that the SITLA team had created provided an important starting place for our negotiations. Lastly, working together we could resolve many more issues than just the school trust lands inside the new monument. We needed to construct the proposed trade in a way that was sensitive to the particular concerns of both environmental interests and local government priorities. 

A Blockbuster Agreement 

As the negotiating group developed momentum and trust, the process shifted into problem-solving mode. What started as a small, monument-only exchange began to morph into a blockbuster agreement that could solve problems and create opportunities statewide. 

When the negotiations were concluded, this is what the deal looked like: 

The State of Utah would give up

  • 376,739 acres of state school trust lands, including: 

  • 176,000 aces within the boundaries of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument 

  • 80,000 acres within Arches and Capitol Reef national parks, Glen Canyon and Flaming Gorge national recreation areas, and Dinosaur National Monument 

  • 47,480 acres within the Goshute and Navajo Indian reservations. 

  • 70,000 acres within eight national forests and the Desert Range Experimental Station 

  • 2,500 acres within the Alton Coal Fields in Kane County that had previously been designated unsuitable for mining. 

The state also agreed to give up mineral rights on an additional 65,852 acres of state land. The Office of School and Institutional Trust Lands also agreed to drop its lawsuits over the Grand Staircase inholdings and lost coal developments there. 

The state school trust fund, in return, would receive: 

• $50 million in cash. 

• $13 million to be generated from the sale of yet unleased coal in the Cottonwood Tract in Emery County. 

• Mineral rights to more than 160 million tons of coal in Carbon and Emery counties. 

• Rights to 185 billion cubic feet of coal bed methane in Carbon and Emery counties in what is known as the Ferron Field. 

• 2,000 acres of limestone deposits in Millard County. 

• 4,000 acres of oil and gas properties in Duchesne County. 

• 2,600 acres of tar sands in Uintah County. 

• The Blue Mountain Telecommunications Site in Uintah County. 

• The 3,000 acres on which Beaver Mountain Ski Resort sits, as well as adjacent lands that could be developed into condominiums. 

• More than 47,000 acres of developable land in Washington, Kane, and Garfield counties. 

The proposed exchange was reviewed with Babbitt and me individually and by our respective teams. I had been briefed periodically along the way. I presume the same was true for Babbitt. 

One provision was added: Babbitt and I agreed that this had to be approved by Congress within seventy-five days or the deal was off. Meeting this schedule would require us to push for speed on every front. We knew without speed the deal would be second-guessed and picked-at by everyone. 

Duties for selling the deal to various constituencies were split between the Governor’s Office and the Secretary’s office. My office would manage notification of local governments, legislators, and members of Utah’s congressional delegation. Babbitt and his teams would deal with the White House, Democrat members of Congress, and interested environmental groups. 

A meeting was scheduled in Moab on May 7, 1998, with the State Institutional Trust Land Board. Rulon Gill was the chairman. He had been constantly notified of our progress and was supportive. He had already helped navigate some sensitive interpersonal dynamics between the federal team and SITLA. 

Kevin Carter, John Andrews, and Jim Cooper, who had originated much of the proposal, gave the SITLA board background on the proposed deal. After they had an understanding of the proposal, and the process we followed, the SITLA Board endorsed the proposal. This was vitally important because it deflated the inevitable attacks of “we didn’t get enough.” 

The next morning, Friday, May 8, 1998, at the Governor’s Mansion, we met to sign the deal. The two teams were there. It was a festive mood, but we knew the hard work of getting people on board was just beginning. 

Notifying Officials 

Immediately after signing the agreement, I started making confidential calls to members of the congressional delegation. Jim Hansen was the first and clearly most important call. Jim was surprised and not happy. As chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, he naturally thought he would be involved in the negotiation of this deal, not surprised out of the blue by the governor of his own party. 

I understood why Jim was unsettled. I asked that he reserve judgment until he had reviewed the deal and spoken with the SITLA Board. I was grateful to tell him they had unanimously endorsed the deal. I told him that we did this deal with the confidence that his role in the process would make it possible. It could not happen without him, and it was very important to the state of Utah. 

Jim had begun to gather himself by then. He was gracious, but I knew we still had work to do. Bob Bennett and Orrin Hatch were rather pleased to hear about the progress. They assured me of their help and support. Congressman Chris Cannon, who was also on the Natural Resources Committee, and whose district included many of the most affected counties, responded skeptically at first. It was Cannon who had ousted Bill Orton amid the voters’ retaliatory mood against the Clinton Administration over the monument. 

Later Wednesday afternoon, I asked the Utah Association of Counties to organize an emergency meeting of their members at the Juab County offices in Nephi the following Saturday. It was a central location, though many of the members had to drive two to three hours to get there. 

No single group felt more aggrieved by the declaration of Grand Staircase than Utah’s county officials. And no single group held Bruce Babbitt as Secretary of Interior (and all other federal officials) in lower esteem. Though I had been able to maintain friendly relationships with most of them individually, their ongoing struggle to manage their county’s finances and politics sometimes made our relationship tenuous. Clearly, this was another surprise they did not see coming. First the monument, and now a major land transaction affecting their counties. 

I honestly felt this proposal should be seen by the commissioners as an important victory and a giant step forward for the state. However, the surprise of the announcement made it difficult for them, and they were intuitively cynical. Another factor in their reaction was their perspective on the land. To the state school trust officials, this was a profoundly important moment. They were the recipients of what we estimated to be more than one billion dollars of value for the schools. Counties do not have responsibility for schools, but they do struggle to keep the tax bases of their counties strong. They saw the school trust lands as a critical economic resource. Just the sound of removing 379,000 acres of school trust land from productivity sounded bad. 

I began to describe the nature of most of the land we had given up in the exchange. It was not rich in minerals or opportunity. However, it was rich in beauty and antiquities. I then began to review, one at a time, the county-by-county sweeteners we had put into the proposals. There was not something for every county, but something for most. 

One colorful exchange characterizes the conversation overall. I had just explained to the Millard County commissioners that as part of the exchange we had received 2,500 acres of property that could be used for limestone mining. One of the commissioners, an outgoing woman named Lana Moon, complained that we should have gotten more acres. 

Lana Moon was a friend of mine. I found her response a bit exasperating. I said, “Lana, occasionally my father would send me out to buy something, and it seems like no matter how good a deal I got, Dad felt like he could have done better. This is an extraordinary package,” I said. 

Lana turned around and, in a stage-whisper, said, “We should have sent his dad.” 

The room erupted in laughter, including me. The banter seemed to break the tension and the room warmed up. We shifted to unveiling the sweeteners we had for each of the counties. 

County government officials were an important constituency. They have the ability in the rural areas of the state to drive public opinion. They are also close to Utah’s congressional delegation and state legislators. While they did not receive it warmly, I believe they reacted mostly to the unexpected nature of the announcement. Most of them were still suffering a political version of post-traumatic stress disorder brought on by the Grand Staircase National Monument. Before the meeting was over some of the commissioners began to gain some perspective on the proposal. 

Beginning immediately after the county commissioner meetings, I spent much of the day on the phone with members of the state legislature and school communities. I started with legislative leadership, then to legislators from affected areas. Most of them were members of the House of Representatives. One I knew would be angry was Tom Hatch, a legislator from Garfield County, home of the Grand Staircase Monument. I considered Tom to be a very good friend. He was well respected by his legislative colleagues. 

As I expected, Tom Hatch was extremely unhappy. In fact, angry is a better description. His anger, and the feelings of other rural legislators, reflected the betrayal they felt by the federal government. This surprise reminded them of the last unexpected blow. As a group they were still very much of a mind to strike back. They harbored the hope and belief that somehow, through the courts or a political change, they could reverse the Grand Staircase. I did not share their view. 

Tom Hatch told the Deseret News, “We’ve been sacrificed in the deal.” The article continued: “It may be a good swap for Utah, Hatch says, ‘But for the people in this area—we’re really getting the shaft. We’d always hoped we could leverage those trust lands for the benefit of our local economies. What the governor has done has taken that opportunity away forever.’”(8)

Most of the legislators just wanted more information as they tried to figure out whether this was a good outcome for the state. 

School officials tended to be more positive and optimistic. 

The most welcome diversion of the usual pattern came from the environmental groups such as the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, which expressed outward support. This was likely a somewhat coerced response by virtue of Babbitt’s involvement. It was undoubtedly the only time in my eleven years that they expressed positive support. 

On Monday, we made a formal announcement at the Governor’s Mansion. Secretary Babbitt and his team were there, as well as the entire congressional delegation, school leaders, and state legislators. We had planned on an outdoor ceremony, but a spectacular thunder and lightning storm pushed some of the proceedings indoors. We signed the documents. It was big news, and we told our story well. 

Over the next few weeks, stories about the reaction of various people and organizations flowed into public discourse. My position was well summarized when I testified on June 26, 1998, at a Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing on the proposed exchange: 

For nearly 70 years and through the administration of 12 Presidents and nine governors, the federal government and the state of Utah have struggled with the management of these lands. This legislation presents a rare opportunity to resolve this struggle.(9) 

Under the memorandum of understanding, legislative action was required in seventy-five days. We had to move swiftly, and for that to occur, Utah’s members of Congress had to do the heavy lifting. They were unified and cooperative. 

History owes great credit particularly to Congressman Jim Hansen and Senator Bob Bennett. Literally no other member of Congress could have accomplished passage of this bill through the House of Representatives other than Jim Hansen. As chair of the Natural Resources Committee, he was able to schedule hearings and arrange floor time for this measure. This was, of course, part of our calculus as we contemplated the possibility of success. 

The summary of the bill’s status drawn from the Congressional Record shows that H.R. 3830 was referred to the House Committee on Resources on Tuesday following the Friday announcement. This is less than one week after Jim Hansen learned of the agreement. Jim Hansen marched this bill through the House of Representatives like no other person could have. By June 25, H.R. 3830 was in the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources Committee, chaired by Larry Craig of Idaho with Utah Senator Bob Bennett, shepherding its every step.(10)

Though the final vote in the Senate was delayed by a hold placed by Senator Dale Bumpers of Arkansas as a tactical move to get something he wanted and needed, it was approved by the Senate on a voice vote on October 9, 1998. 

We had hoped for a grand bill signing at the White House, but it is worth remembering this was during the midterm elections and everyone was focused on their final push. However, Bill Clinton signed the bill into law October 31, 1998. The historic Utah Land Exchange became law. 

The Conclusion of the Monument Planning Process 

Throughout all the twists and turns of the land exchange, the monument planning process was proceeding as well, and grinding toward conclusion. After months of discussion, hearings, and meetings of the planning group, I did get one last opportunity to affect the outcome. 

In the spring of 1999, Bruce Babbitt, his general counsel John Leshy, Geoff Webb, and Molly McUsic, came to Utah for the purpose of seeking the state’s agreement on the management plan. His effort was both magnanimous and practical. I think we wanted to honor the collaborative relationship we had developed after a most-uncollaborative monument declaration. He also wanted to minimize the risks that come with ongoing litigation. The purpose of our time together was to give my team and I a chance to shape the final version of the monument plan in exchange for an agreement not to litigate and challenge the plan in court. 

Both sides had a list of issues. They had been prioritized in meetings between our teams. We concluded that spending a day together on the land that constituted the monument would be the most productive way of resolving matters. I arranged for a Utah National Guard helicopter to fly us from place to place within the monument so we could see the land as we discussed it. It was both exhilarating to see the land’s beauty in such a unique fashion, and constructive to ensure we were both seeing the same picture. 

At the end of our day, the helicopter landed at my family’s ranch in Loa, Utah. After we slept, we met in the family home around a dining room table to negotiate our differences. It was a fitting place to hold such a discussion. Loa is surrounded by BLM and Forest Service land. Capitol Reef and Bryce Canyon national parks are both an hour’s drive, and the Grand Staircase National Monument sat just across a mountain range to the south. 

Several times during the day we had to take breaks because of the intensity of the discussion. Both sides were resolved to find a solution, but we represented two different perspectives. During the first break, Babbitt and I walked the four miles around the family farm. On the second break, we walked through the middle of the town of Loa. Each walk seemed to reenergize our resolve, and by the end of the day, we found solutions to the remaining issues. It took several more months to satisfy the administrative rule process.(11) 

The Economic Value of the Exchange 

There is a core inequity that exists between the way the states with large percentages of public land were treated at statehood. As previously pointed out in this chapter, when most states were established, nearly all the land was, in one form or another, converted to private ownership. In western states, like Utah, most lands were reserved for public ownership. This inherently disadvantages the economy of public land states. 

Those who defend the policy of large portions of the country being reserved for public use reasonably argue that there is no “inequity.” They point out that we are all citizens of the United States. People are free to live where they will, and we all benefit from the public lands in non-financial ways. However, it is hard not to ponder what interior states like Utah would look like if only area of great natural beauty or cultural significance had been reserved—but I digress. 

This land exchange swapped land that the State of Utah was given at statehood—most of which could not be used—for cash, future mineral royalties, and land that we could use. A key to making the deal happen was not assigning specific values to each parcel of the land. However, looking back after about twenty-five years, what was the value of the deal to Utah’s school children and other purposes the money was designated for? 

While the social, educational, and communal effects of these exchanges are impossible to measure, I requested an economic impact analysis of these land exchanges twenty-five years after the transactions. The analysis was done by professionals from the State of Utah School and Institutional Trust Lands Administration. Their assessment measured (a) the initial cash consideration, (b) lease and royalty payments realized to date for mineral and surface rights, (c) sales of past property divestitures, (d) the current value of property retained by the state, and (e) the present value of projected income from ongoing lease agreements. In total, the estimated value of these elements is between $1.15 and $1.35 billion in 2023 dollars.

Other Land Exchanges 

While no public lands achievement compared in size, scope, intensity, and consequence to the Grand Staircase−related land trade, there were ongoing land and environmental initiatives, disputes, successes, and failures throughout my service as governor. 

The West Desert Land Exchange 

In 2000, a much smaller land exchange between the federal Bureau of Land Management and the state School and Institutional Trust Lands Administration was implemented through an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act. This was a Jim Hansen effort extensively.(12) He was not only chair of the House Natural Resources Committee but also a member of the Armed Services Committee. His roles on both committees played an important part in getting this later exchange done. The bill swapped lands in a way that provided value to both the BLM and SITLA. However, it also provided some important protections to the Utah Test and Training Range, a military asset important to the ongoing viability of Hill Air Force Base. 

San Rafael Swell 

Two years after our successful land exchange in 1998, a new president was elected. George W. Bush, the former governor of Texas and a good friend, took control of the executive branch. Bush appointed a Colorado lawyer, Gale Norton, as Secretary of Interior. 

Given our success working with a Democrat president, it was not unreasonable to think we could get something done with a Republican president. 

I developed, along with our land team, the idea of proposing a new national monument in the San Rafael Swell area of south-central Utah. It is a relatively small area but contains some of the most beautiful land on planet Earth. I felt it needed to be protected and preserved. It also bothered me that Republicans were always on the defensive when it came to environmental issues. So, we proposed the creation of the San Rafael National Monument. In that context, we proposed a land exchange to settle the inholding issues in advance rather than in the end. While official monument status would have required an act of Congress and was clearly a long-term project, the land exchange was a good way to draw attention to it and get the ball rolling. 

The exchange we proposed would have allowed Utah to acquire 137,000 acres of federal land in exchange for 108,000 acres of scattered Utah school trust lands that were inside the proposed national monument. 

This proposal illustrates how the politics of land exchanges and other issues play out. The exchange made great sense for both the federal and state governments. It would have protected some fragile and important land. However, it had enough opposition from environmentalists, government employees, and others to kill the exchange. Why did the large complex land exchange we did in 1998 happen in less than six weeks, and a much smaller, less complex exchange fail? There are important lessons here. 

First, the San Rafael exchange involved dueling appraisers who took ridiculous positions. I think it was a strategic mistake to have more acreage proposed for state control. It created natural suspicions that the state was getting a superior deal. 

Second, in 1998 we had Republicans and Democrats cooperating to produce the ultimate outcome. In 2002, Republicans controlled both the federal government and state government. Democrats and agency employees claimed the land being traded to the state contained valuable archaeological sites, prehistoric fossils, important habitat for wildlife, and endangered plants and fish. The truth is they were simply suspicious of an all-Republican deal. 

Important lessons can be learned from this failure. For example, bipartisanship is nearly always required for complex deals such as the San Rafael land exchange to work. Without two parties serving as assumed checks and balances, the required trust does not exist. This also shows the irrationality of using competing appraisals. 

My Environmental Philosophy—Enlibra 

Over the nearly eleven and a half years I served as governor, there were more land initiatives that failed than succeeded. For example, I made six different attempts to gain traction with a moderate wilderness bill. All failed. Each one focused on developing more flexible ways of managing public lands. After I had left office as governor, a small wilderness bill sponsored by Senator Bob Bennett did succeed in setting aside a small amount of land, mostly in southern Utah. I spent a lot of political capital and time seeking to solve a problem that still exists on RS 2477 roads that cross federal land. Each effort made us smarter, and if I had another term as governor, I think progress could have been made on the road issue. However, one thing all those experiences dealing with environmental issues produced in me was a well-defined environmental philosophy. 

Public land issues were only one version of conflicts over the environment. I dealt with water issues, air issues, contamination issues, and numerous others. Consistently, people have very different views on mankind’s relationship with the earth and how best to care for it. People tend to polarize quickly along political and ideological lines, and then dig in. I have often told the story of seeing two bumper stickers in the same day. One said, “Earth first, we’ll mine the other planets later.” The other said, “Save the Earth, kill yourself.” One would think there is a better way in the middle, but environmental issues are almost always debated at those polar extremes. When problems are solved, it happens after the two sides have collided for years. Once neither side has an ounce of blood and treasure left, they compromise in a place located in the common-sense middle that was obvious from the beginning. 

The political left has adopted the label “environmentalist” as the single word that describes their philosophy. The right proudly references their philosophy as “pro-growth.” It always troubled me that there was no word or phrase that coalesced the people who wanted to be in the common-sense middle, supporting balanced solutions. 

The Democrat governor of Oregon, John Kitzhaber, and I, were in very different places politically on most subjects, but we found it peculiar how often we agreed with each other on environmental issues. Both of us saw ourselves as interested in balanced, practical solutions that incorporated aspects of both environmentalist doctrines and pro-growth dogma. 

We concluded to go through an intellectual exercise to see if we could find a word that symbolized the balance we sought. We also set about to develop a set of principles that would articulate the philosophy of a person who stood ideologically between the far-left environmentalist and the far-right pro-growth advocate. 

I think Governor Kitzhaber would likely agree in retrospect that I put more energy into this project than he did. However, he was genuinely interested, and both of us knew that having a well-known liberal Democrat and a defined conservative Republican was key to having these ideas ever gain much traction. So, we worked hard to find principles we could both agree with. 

Truthfully, the two of us had hopes that our word and these principles would catch on and that we could stimulate more balanced political discussion. 

In time, we arrived at eight principles that defined our mutual view of what a balanced environmental philosophy looked like: 

National Standards, Neighborhood Solutions:  Assign responsibilities at the right level. 

Collaboration, Not Polarization: Use collaborative processes to break down barriers and find solutions. 

Reward Results, Not Programs: Move to a performance-based system instead of one that is process-based. 

Science for Facts, Process for Priorities: Separate subjective choices from objective data gathering. 

Markets Before Mandates: Pursue economic incentives whenever appropriate. 

Change a Heart, Change a Nation: Environmental education and understanding are crucial. 

Recognition of Benefits and Costs: Make sure all decisions affecting infrastructure, development, and environment are fully informed. 

Solutions Transcend Political Boundaries: Use appropriate geographic boundaries to resolve problems. 

Once we had developed agreement on the eight principles, we knew a single word was necessary for people to claim it as their own. 

After hours searching dictionaries and a thesaurus, I realized the perfect word did not exist in the English language. Potential choices had other meanings assigned that could distort the intended meaning. Kitzhaber and I decided we needed to invent the word—but it had to have logic in its construction. 

Early one morning sometime in 1999, I visited the Salt Lake Public Library to find a Latin dictionary. (Why did I not just look it up on the internet you might ask? Because the internet did not yet exist in a form that allowed that.) 

“What do you think my environmental philosophy is?”

So, with a thick Latin dictionary, I began to construct various words using Latin syllables that might capture our meaning. I had several possible combinations. That afternoon, I flew to New York City where John Kitzhaber and I were to meet with The New York Times Editorial Board to discuss this new environmental philosophy. We had the principles but not the word. 

We met in front of the Times offices at 10:30 a.m. for our appointment at 11. I took out a paper with the choices we developed. Leaning over the hood of a parked car, Kitzhaber and I agreed on the word Enlibra. It is the combination of two Latin words, En (to move toward) and libra (balance). 

We immediately rode the elevator and went into our meeting, defending our newly named environmental philosophy and its sophisticated new name to the Times board. We thought our visit might spark a movement. Alas, it did not. I’m not even sure they wrote a story. If they did, it was about strange political bedfellows who seemed to get along, despite their diverse ideological backgrounds on other issues. 

However, we were only getting started. Over the next several years, we put some serious effort into our quixotic little cause. We used our role as governors to have the word adopted as the philosophy of the Western Governors’ Association and the National Governors Association. 

Both organizations organized full conferences around it. Various organizations committed to adopt the principles. Some environmental journalists and academics began to analyze it. 

My ability to use the principles paid off at least once. In 2003, when President Bush spoke with me about becoming the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), we began to talk about environmental policy. I made a comment about the need for the head of EPA to articulate the president’s environmental philosophy. He asked, “What do you think my environmental philosophy is?” I then began to recite each principle of Enlibra but without saying the word “Enlibra.” 

Mike and John Kitzhaber

I have no illusion that President Bush knew much about Enlibra, but as I slowly spoke each precept, attributing them as his philosophy, he nodded, clearly impressed by how crisply I articulated his beliefs. He asked me to take the job after our discussion in the Oval Office. During my time as administrator of the EPA, there was a section on Enlibra on the agency’s newly created website, stating: 

The Enlibra Doctrine is an approach to environmental stewardship that was co-authored by former Utah Governor and later EPA Administrator Mike Leavitt and former Governor John Kitzhaber of Oregon. Enlibra, from the Latin, means ‘move toward balance.’ Enlibra is based on the dual concepts of balance and stewardship, and is built upon principles of flexibility, innovation, partnership and collaboration. The philosophy emphasizes collaboration instead of polarization, national standards and neighborhood solutions, markets instead of mandates, solutions that transcend political boundaries, and other common sense ideas that will accelerate environmental progress.(13) 

Several EPA rules and various statutes in the U.S. code have the word Enlibra incorporated. I made a good faith effort to have the word included in the Oxford Dictionary. They did not buy it either. Fittingly, as time moved on and my interests began to focus more on healthcare, the doctrine of Enlibra was placed in the “good ideas that didn’t take” pile. 

It can truthfully be said, though, that Michael O. Leavitt had a well-defined environmental philosophy, and the Grand Staircase National Monument and other measures I worked on during my time in public service comported with its principles and aims. 

Those principles could have spared considerable time, expense, and fury in disputes like the monument battles since Grand Staircase and Bear’s Ears—beholden as they are to presidential edict rather than an act of Congress. Monuments continue to be proposed and created under the Antiquities Act to this day, bypassing Congress and state and local representatives. 

We westerners tend to honor the processes and laws that guarantee ultimate stewardship and effective management. What we reject is duplicity, political gamesmanship, and unchecked abuses of power—and the mindset that a bureaucrat or environmental “expert” who once backpacked in Canyonlands knows or cares for the land more than we do. Sentiments were expressed by government and activist figures after the Grand Staircase fallout that Utahns would come around and learn to love these lands. What always seems to escape them is that no one values, understands, and loves the land more than we do. 



1. "Federal Land," Ballotpedia, accessed 3 April 2023.

2. Reuter News Service, “New National Monument in Utah? It’s Possible,” Deseret News, 7 September 1996.

3. Interview by Mike Leavitt with Brad Barber (State Office of Planning and Budget), John Andrews (SITLA), Kevin Carter (SITLA), October 26, 2022. 

4. John Leshy interview for the southern Utah Oral History Project, “History, Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument,” interviewer Marsha Holland, April 1, 2014. From the Grand Staircase special collection at Southern Utah University Library.

5. Behind Closed Doors: The Abuse of Trust and Discretion in the Establishment of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument,” Staff Report of the Committee on Resources, One Hundred Fifth Congress, 7 November 1997, 

6. Orton’s initial election in the 3rd District had been a shock since Republicans were usually a shoo-in for the seat. He had won because of a miscalculated ad by the Republican candidate and proceeded to win reelection because he got along well with Republicans in rural counties. Unfortunately for Orton, voters clearly retaliated against President Clinton and Democrats for Grand Staircase. It incensed rural legislators, county commissioners, and just about everybody else locally involved. And Orton took the brunt of it. Obviously, one congressional seat was acceptable collateral damage to the Clinton team.

7. “SITLA and Trust Lands Explained,” Trust Lands Administration.

8. Lucinda Dillon, “What’s the bottom line on big land swap?” Deseret News, 14 May 1998.

9. Lee Davidson, “Odd couples unite to support Utah’s land swap,” Deseret News, 26 June 1998.

10. Utah Schools and Lands Exchange Act of 1998, Pub. L. No. 105-335, 112 Stat. 3007 (1998)

H.R. 3830, A Bill to Provide for the Exchange of Certain Lands Within the State of Utah, Hearing before the Subcommittee on National Parks and Public Lands of the Committee on Resources House of Representatives. 105 Cong. No. 105-89 (1998) 

11. The management plan was declared final on February 29, 2000.

12. Utah West Desert Land Exchange Act of 2000, Pub. L. No. 106-301, 114 Stat. 2193 (2000)

13. Gil Friend, “Enlibra Principles – ‘moving toward balance,’” Natural Logic, 9 May 2005.


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