Prepared for:

The Utah Governor’s Office

Prepared by:

Ryan M Yonk PhD & Institute of Policy Analysis, Southern Utah University

Kayla Dawn Harris, Research Director | Christopher Martin, Team Lead
Richard Criddle, Jordan Hunt, Braedan Udy

Executive Summary:

The purpose of this report is to develop a metric for comparing costs across land administration entities with land management responsibilities within the State of Utah. For lands to be transferred to the State under the Transfer of Public Lands Act, we estimate the total per annum cost to the State of Utah. Using the US GAO’s 1997 report Land Ownership: Similarities and Differences in the Management of Selected State and Federal Land Units (GAO/RCED-97-158) as a template for our metrics, we have gathered data from the major land administrating entities in the State of Utah to determine cost per acre and, where applicable, cost per visitor1. All entities except the Bureau of Land Management have delivered data, and upon receipt of data from the Bureau of Land Management cost estimations will be forwarded as an amendment to this study.

As in the GAO report, we advise that those who utilize the data presented in this report keep in mind when interpreting these data that higher per acre or per visitor costs do not necessarily indicate poor management, but may demonstrate a difference in emphasis between the agencies. Cost comparisons between federal and state agencies are likely to be the result of differing management structures, requirements, and mandates. For further information on this topic, we refer the reader to the GAO report, as its purpose was to identify similarities and differences in management. We have included a copy of the 1997 report as Appendix 6.

We developed four metrics of interest: 1) budget per acre, 2) budget per visitor for parks, 3) cost or revenue per acre and 4) cost or revenue per visitor.1 The BLM is excluded from analysis until they deliver data, and the FWS was unable to produce revenue figures and have indicated that such data is not likely to be produced in the near term.

Table ES.1.1 National Agencies Summary

per Acre
per Visitor
per Acre
per Visitor
USDA Forest Service $10.54 N/A $9.34 N/A
NPS All Utah $17.85 $3.76 $8.93 $1.88
Comparison Sites $28.23 $3.42 $12.05 $1.46
USFWS $25.01 N/A NR N/A
*Cost: Revenue – Budget (expense)

Table ES.1.2 State Agencies Summary

per Acre
per Visitor
per Acre
per Visitor
DNR (State Parks) All $12.81 $3.76 $3.28 $0.96
Comparison Sites $95.01 $3.66 $17.55 $0.68
SITLA** $3.19 N/A ($32.59) N/A
*Cost: Revenue – Budget (expense) **SITLA is a net revenue generator, displayed as a negative cost

Table ES.2 Estimated Costs of Lands Transferred

Agency Cost
Forrest Service $64,302,738
National Parks Service $7,418,230
Fish and Wildlife Service $2,600,156
Total $74,321,124

Summary of Results and Analysis

  • Excluding BLM lands, we estimate the cost of administering lands transferred to the State under the Transfer of Public Lands Act to be $74,321,124 per annum.
    • This estimate does not factor in transition costs, the sale of lands, or increases in central administrative costs.
  • Among reporting agencies, SITLA is the only one that operates a net positive balance. Upon review of previous BLM studies, we project a positive balance for the BLM as well.
  • We attribute State Parks’ relatively high budget and costs per acre to National Parks larger absolute acreage, which affords the NPS some efficiency of scale in terms of land management. Per visitor budgets are roughly equal.
  • Both types of Parks show large variability in budget and costs per acre. We attribute this to significant differences in park type, popularity, and amenities.
  • State Parks recover a larger portion of their per visitor budgets. The 1997 GAO report suggests that State Parks are more focused on visitation relative to National Parks, which is consistent with this finding. (See Chart ES.2)
  • Given the emphasis on wildlife, per acre costs for the Fish and Wildlife Service are likely less meaningful. Certain activities, such as fish hatcheries, are capital intensive but do not require much acreage.
  • Wilderness funding changes proportionally with the amount of Wilderness designated in a National Forest. However, we do not see the inverse relationship with funding for projects prohibited in Wilderness Areas.
    • The above is consistent with Forest Service input that administrating Wilderness includes efforts on non-Wilderness lands.
    • In short, the division of land administration is not as neat as the geographic division between Wilderness and non-Wilderness.
  • Fire suppression and prevention activities on public and unincorporated lands in Utah draw from overlapping pools of physical capital, facilities, and resources.
  • Additional data and research are required to compare costs for fire suppression and prevention. We recommend a longitudinal study as the severity and number of fires in an agency’s jurisdiction vary significantly from year to year.