Bill to sell federal land in Utah could set off cascade of land sales

In the American West, many of the fastest-growing regions contain the most federally owned land, which limits expansion. This puts developers, local officials, and the vacation-home set in conflict with the public interest, and … well, we hardly need to finish that sentence, right? Some members of Congress from Western states are getting the itch to sell off public land to make more room for development, and a new bill proposed by a senator and rep from Utah is widely seen as a test of their ability to get away with it. The Utahans want to sell off up to 40 square miles of federally owned land in Washington County — which is 87 percent federally owned — and use the proceeds to finance local development (instead of putting the money in the federal treasury). The plan would designate 219,000 acres of wilderness too, but most of that land is already protected; it would also create a threatened tortoise preserve and, um, put a highway through it. The fate of the bill will be watched closely by nearly a dozen other rural Western counties in similar situations.