Some people in Utah are hot to transfer federal lands to the State of Utah.

How would it happen and what would it cost? Nobody seems to know. When I look into it, I find mostly rhetoric and not many numbers.

What happens if these notions concerning the salutary action of one Invisible Hand or another succeed? (Adam Smith’s or Mammon’s – sometimes I’m not sure) Will Utah end up like Texas which is 98 percent private and you have to beg permission to spit over the fence?

Public lands constitute 87 percent of Grand County’s area, a whopping 62 percent under Bureau of Land Management control.

Before this goes any further, wouldn’t it be a good idea to know who uses it now, how it gets used, and the costs and rewards of these activities?

The Grand County Council commissioned a report called “The Economic Value of Public Lands in Grand County, Utah” by Headwater Economics of Bozeman, Mont., in Sept. 2011. It is on line.

“The Value of Public Lands” report contains a lot of food for thought: Especially economic thought.

According to this report, there are 3,378 private jobs in Grand County. Of those, 1,486 are tourist related and 1,214 of those are in hospitality trades. So, everybody spends money eating and sleeping. No surprise there. But the report’s finer-grained analysis does have surprises.

According to BLM data (2007) cited in the report, 49 percent of the visitors to BLM land are “nature-viewing”, camping, or hiking; 17 percent are bikers; 8 percent are motoring; and 6 percent are on the river.

Driving down Main Street you would think that bikes, ATVs, Jeeps, and rafts account for half the visitors – not sight-seers, hikers, and campers. One assumes even higher percentages of nature-viewers and hikers in the national parks.

Does this kind of information even get prioritized in local development decisions, much less Constitutional combat? For example, biking brings more people than motoring and rafting combined.

But does a 17 percent market share justify spending $3 million on a bike trail from Lion’s Park to Negro Bill Canyon?

(To be fair, the pork was already in the barrel and the barrel was on the Federal loading dock without a shipping label. Still, $1 million per-mile for a bike path?)

Or consider all the hoo-hoo-rah about opening up every deer trail and dry wash to off-road vehicles. That’s 8 percent of the pie and 80 percent of the noise. Oh, in case you’re wondering, resource extraction (oil, coal, uranium, etc.) accounts for 2 percent of the Grand County’s jobs and probably the other 20 percent of the ruckus.

“The Value of Public Lands” reminds me of a document the Grand County Council commissioned in the mid-1990’s called the Capital Facilities Management Report. It purported to show the value of capital facilities in the county (water, sewer, jail, courthouse, etc.) and how much they cost to maintain and replace. This overview was a good tool for identifying, prioritizing, and paying for critical projects. To my knowledge, no update was ever produced.

The County’s General Plan Update (2012) contains similar data to “The Value of Public

Lands” and the capital facilities report, but it is not as digestible.

And, while the update is full of nice ideas developed by well-meaning, self-sacrificing citizens, it has no teeth.

The Land Use Code has teeth. The Land Use Code contains one off-hand reference to the county’s general plan. The words “general plan” do not appear in the Land Use Code’s “definitions” section or index.

I know of nothing in the Land Use Code that mandates a process for including ideas from the General Plan. The General Plan is, in other words, all dressed up with nowhere to go.

“The Value of Public Lands” report is a fairly succinct piece of work and I hope there will be regular updates to it, or something similar. Compiling real-time economic data is a good job for planners. If and how it affects the decision making processes among politicians, we can’t always know. But is it a lot to ask? Well, if the fate of the various

General Plans I’ve seen over the years is any clue.