THE RAW DEAL
A RECENT EXAMPLE OF HOW STATES CASH IN AND SPORTSMEN LOSE OUT
IN OCTOBER 2016, Utah’s Trust Lands Administration put 3,700 acres of state property on the auction block. With no mineral or energy opportunities, the lands had little leasing potential; the state knew, however, that selling the tracts could generate a hefty sum. The lands included prime parcels, like a scenic 200-acre Cave Valley tract adjoining Zion National Park. That plot, called “the best of the best” by auctioneers, brought $1.74 million, with Under Canvas, a resort-style “glamping” company, losing a bidding war to the Lyman Family Farm, a corporation owned by Utah entrepreneur Joe Hunt. Other tracts that sold included 1,240 acres on Diamond Mountain, home to Uintah County’s best big-game hunting, and a 390acre parcel on San Juan County’s Comb Ridge, a popular public-land access point and through which runs the Hole in the Rock Trail, a historic route of Mormon pioneers. Hunt’s “family farm” also bought the Comb Ridge property and quickly gated the access road. Local communities and conservation groups protested the Comb Ridge sale, but there was nothing they could do. If states can generate more revenue through selling property than by retaining and leasing it, then that’s what they will do. All told, the state netted $5.52 million from the auction, with the Lyman Family Farm buying seven of the 12 parcels. Since its incorporation in 2014, the company has purchased roughly half of the Utah tracts up for auction, 19 of which had significant archaeological, hunting, or scenic value, or provided access to federal public lands. None of the parcels had agricultural potential, so no one knows the reason for the purchases. What is clear, however, is that there’s no shortage of buyers happy to take public lands off of our hands.