Dixie Forum tackles state land rights

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A St. George resident commenced the yearly Dixie Forum return by speaking about why over half of Utah’s land is owned by the federal government. 

Ray Kuehne, a St. George resident and constitutionalist, volunteered to open the DSU forum series for the 2016-17 academic year to talk about the history of the issue between federal and state owned land. He said he thought if he could show people the origin of the federal owned land and how it came to be, it would provide context and understanding to the issue. 

As America was expanding west the federal government gave the land away to pay debts instead of money, to war veterans and to anyone who met certain requirements, Kuehne said. Soon after the federal government became concerned with resources depleting, so the it took ownership of the remaining land in efforts to conserve resources.

Kuehne said that about 60 percent of Utah is owned by the federal government. The land in Utah was too hot to grow anything anyways, so nobody wanted the land besides the Mormons, he said.  

He said he believes if the state of Utah were to get more control of the land, it would be easier for the land to fall into ownership of private hands and become unavailable or no longer free to the public.

“The land is freer when it is in the federal (government’s) hands,” Kuehne said. 

Chris Gorzalski, St. George resident and co-leader of Great Old Broads for Wilderness, an environment conservation group, said she agrees with Kuehne on the federal government keeping ownership. She said she fears if the state took ownership of the federal-owned land that a lot of Utah would be privatized. She was also concerned if Utah could even afford places like the national parks, she said.

“I think the [parks] could be sold out or you would have sponsorships,” Gorzalski said. “(Welcome to) Zion National Park, brought to you by Coca-Cola.”

John Burns, chairman for the Dixie Forum, said forums are traditional and most colleges have a main series of lectures. He said he wants the forums to be something different for students to enjoy outside of their regular course work.

“That is what is great about college: You get to pick what you finally want to do,” Burns said. “But there is that neat aspect of education of broadening your horizon and seeing what is out there.”

Kristine Crandall, a freshman general education major from Ogden, said this was her first forum and attended to receive extra credit for her geology course.

“Extra credit is a good thing because it introduces them to (the forum) and brings more of an audience to (the forum),” Crandall said.

The speakers are either sought out by Burns or seeks out Burns to volunteer. He said most of the speakers are volunteers.

“A lot of people volunteer to be a part of the forum because they want to support what we are trying to do,” Burns said.

The location of DSU also helps to get speakers on campus, Burns said. One of DSU’s neighbors are the national parks and the other is Las Vegas, so it is easy to sell a trip to DSU, he said.

Burns is allotted a yearly budget of $10,000 to work with. Burns said his goal is to build a reputation of good hospitality with his speakers.

Speakers receive an honorarium of $100 to $150, a lunch and travel arrangements when necessary.   

“They may never have heard of us, but I want them to remember us,” Burns said.

Burns said he tries to find topics that will interest students or are things you don’t hear about all the time. Topics have varied from the Mars rover to armor and clothes made out of spider silk, with everything else in between.

Burns said:“Whatever brings more students in. That is what I care about. Because it is for them.”

Students can enroll in the course HUM 100R: The Dixie Forum, visit the website, http://humanities.dixie.edu/the-dixie-forum, to find more information on the upcoming forums or follow them on Facebook and Twitter at Dixie Forum.

 “It’s a hidden gem on campus that more students should know about and take advantage of,” Burns said.