Utah’s Rep. Ken Ivory at center of national debate on public lands

The Better UTAH Beat airs Tuesday afternoons on KVNU’s For the People. Podcasts of previous episodes are available here.
The public land debate has garnered significant levels of public attention this year. If recent events are any indication, that interest is only set to increase.

Several weeks ago the nation’s attention was captured when Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy rounded up a bunch of armed rebels to protect what he saw as government intrusion into his ranching and grazing activities. Images of gun-toting patriots and the media-loving Bundy blanketed network and cable television.

Closer to home, protesters in San Juan County, led by County Commissioner Phil Lyman, rode their ATVs through Recapture Canyon two weekends ago in defiance of the area being closed to motorized vehicles.

Even more alarming, officials with the Utah Bureau of Land Management have said that BLM employees are being targeted by anti-government protesters. One BLM employee was harassed by armed, masked men while he was driving on I-15. The harassers held a sign that said, “You need to die.”

Some of this unrest relates to advocacy work being done by Rep. Ken Ivory, a legislator from West Jordan, Utah. Ivory hasn’t endorsed Bundy, but he hasn’t exactly distanced himself either. Although Ivory’s crusade has been going on ever since he co-founded with a Nevada county commissioner the advocacy group American Lands Council in 2012, his activities have received increased attention as a result of some of these high profile public lands battles. But that increased attention might not be in Ivory’s best interest.

An article in the Salt Lake Tribune over the weekend by investigative reporter Robert Gehrke raises questions about whether or not Ivory’s activities are ethical and whether or not they could be violating Utah law. Chief among the concerns is whether or not Ivory is engaging in lobbyist work, despite not being registered as a lobbyist in any of the states that his organization is involved.

Whether or not Ivory’s behavior is illegal is one question. Whether or not it is unethical is quite another. There are some, like former legislator David Irvine, who think it is. Irvine, a board member for both Utahns for Ethical Government and the Alliance for a Better UTAH, is quoted in the article as saying:

While they can define all this as technically excusable as they wish, it’s an inescapable fact that, if you’re a lobbyist-legislator, it is an inherent conflict of interest and can only be said not to impair independent judgment if we suspend all rational human experience.

Ethics laws, where they exist in Utah, are a little too fast and loose. The same is not true for other states where Ivory has been traveling. And although Ivory may be in the clear in Utah, other states might not look so favorably on his activities. According to Nevada Law, he may have already run afoul the law.

Land use issues will certainly continue to play a significant role in the West. This conflict, long since growing under the surface, is culminating in ways that could ultimately endanger not only the health of our public lands, but even the personal safety of those Utahns tasked with managing them.

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