SB66: Controversial behaviors on state lands could bring criminal charges

By Stafford Newsome

Capital West News

SALT LAKE CITY — Concerns over misuse of public lands have led one lawmaker to draft a bill criminalizing the behavior. SB66, sponsored by Sen. Margaret Dayton, R-Orem, would attach class-B misdemeanor charges to two particular actions.

The first is building campfires on sovereign lands, which would include beaches surrounding Utah Lake, The Great Salt Lake, the Jordan River and several other bodies of water. Campfires would still be allowed in designated areas. The second is posting that state lands are private property or obstructing access to state lands where access is authorized.

Washington County, Utah

Washington County, Utah

The bill was given a favorable recommendation by the House Natural Resources, Agriculture and Environment Committee and requires only passage by the House of Representatives before being sent to the governor. If passed, the law will give the state the legal authority to prosecute violators.

Supporters of the bill claim that people have been burning trash—including lumber full of nails—along riverbanks and lakefronts.  Currently, people can go anywhere with “a can of gas or a pile of garbage and just light it on fire,” said Jason Curry, public information officer of the Division of Forestry, Fire and State Lands, who also displayed photographs of problem areas.

One concern is that when the water levels rise, recreationalists could be harmed because of the trash or dangerous objects left behind. The state “ would like to have the ability to keep fires just in designated areas,” Curry said.

Part two of the bill addresses “no trespassing” and “private property” signs on public lands. According to Curry, people are posting “‘private property, no trespassing’ to areas that should be open to the public.”

This problem is mostly occurring on popular public lands, like Utah Lake and Bear Lake, and state land officials have no authority stop the problem. This prevents the the safe and free use of those state lands.

If the bill were to pass, departments overseeing state lands would be able to charge sign posters with a criminal penalty.

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