Utah’s 2012 fire season was more devastating than any other season on record, fires burned roughly 413K acres, including 81K private acres, 279K federal acres, and 52K state acres.

There were a number of fires that could have been prevented and put out much quicker had it not been for the jurisdictional struggle and confusion over the federal lands many of these fires were burning on. In 2012 fire suppression costs to the state have been estimated at $16M, and that is just the cost to suppress the fires. Environmental and economic impacts will be a cost the state and it’s citizens will have to bare for years to come. Changes to the local water shed, local environmental quality, debri flow and sediment will be a major issue in the surrounding watersheds for the next 2-5 years impacting local municipalities, power plants, local businesses, homes, roads, bridges, farmers and more.

We have heard a number of bills this session regarding the states jurisdiction over the areas with in it’s territory. Jurisdiction is literally the voice of law, it is the deciding power, the power or right of exercising authority.

By default the states as independent sovereigns have full jurisdiction that extends over every part of it’s territory and retains that authority unless the state cedes that jurisdiction by the consent of it’s legislature.

The constitution expresses the same in Article 1 section 8 clause 17.

“To exercise exclusive legislative jurisdiction in all cases whatsoever, over such district (not exceeding ten miles square) as may, by cession of particular states, and the acceptance of Congress, become the seat of the government of the United States, and to exercise like authority over all places purchased by the consent of the legislature of the state in which the same shall be, for the erection of forts, magazines, arsenals, dockyards and other needful buildings;”

In 1956 Pres. Eisenhower, in order to further clarify this principle, commissioned an interdepartmental study in conjunction with the states attorney generals on the Jurisdiction of the federal lands with the states. The study itemized each parcel of federal property within the several states and came up with 4 different categories of authority over the lands.

  1. Exclusive Jurisdiction, these are Article 1 Section 8 Clause 17 “enclave clause” properties, properties with buildings on them, not vast acres of undeveloped land.
  2. Concurrent Jurisdiction
  3. Partial Jurisdiction
  4. Proprietorial Interest Only, in which case the federal government has acquired some right or title but has not obtained any measure of the State’s authority over the area.

98% of the federally owned land in Utah was classified as category 4, proprietorial interest only.

The report went on to say:

“It scarcely needs to be said that unless there has been a transfer of jurisdiction pursuant to clause 17 by a Federal acquisition of land with State consent, or by cession from the State to the Federal Government, or unless the Federal Government has reserved jurisdiction upon admission of the State, the Federal Government possesses no legislative jurisdiction over any area within a State, such jurisdiction being for exercise by the State”

The resolution calls upon the state of Utah and other states that find themselves in our situation to assert their jurisdictional right, to respond to and take action when conditions on federally owned land in the state adversely affect, the health, safety and welfare of the people.

The bill gives local authorities guidance regarding how they can respond to threats or potential threats to the health, safety and welfare of the people of their political subdivision and identifies 4 steps they can take to mitigate the threats.

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  • Provide written notice to the federal agency that includes a detailed explanation of the problem.
  • Include a detailed description of how the problem can be mitigated.
  • Provide a date by which time the federal agency should respond to the notice and;
  • Send a copy of the notice to the governor, attorney general and the state’s Congressional delegation.
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If the federal agency does not respond by the date requested in the notice the political subdivision or county sheriff can exercise the State’s jurisdictional authority to mitigate the risk and the state will indemnify and hold harmless only if they acted in good faith and adhered to the requirement in this bill.