Residents say federal land ownership is choking life from Garfield County

Residents say federal land ownership is choking the life from Garfield County (Photo: Matt Michela / KUTV)

(KUTV) Residents in Garfield County say federal policy is pushing families off the land, 93 percent of which is federally owned.

It isn't just ranchers; local schools and businesses are feeling the impact as well. Jessica Miller has five kids and three jobs, one of them at the only barber and hair salon in Panguitch.

"I cut hair and then I train horses and I drive a bus. You got a family, you got to have income."

Miller's father, Jim Miller, spent 25 years commuting to Las Vegas to work while his wife and kids lived in Panguitch.

"He missed out a lot of things with the children," Jessica Miller said. Her parents thought Panguitch was a good place to raise children but not a good place to work.

Garfield County is the size of Connecticut, 5,200 square miles with almost exactly the same number of people.

County commissioner Lee Pollock said the federal government is slowly squeezing the life out of Garfield County.

"Our number one export is our children," Pollock said.

Kevin Frandsen owns the last sawmill in the county, which hires 20 workers. There used to be seven or eight mills that hired nearly 400 workers. Timber used to feed the mills came from federal land and the forest service offers less timber for sale. Four of Frandsen's sons work with him. They have families and want to stay in the business.

"We hope there is a future for them."

Almost all of his ranch is on federal land.

Bill Clinton created the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in 1996 without much warning. Garfield residents see the monument as a symbol of the ongoing trouble with their big federal landlord.

David Garbett of the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance shows in an economic report for the county that every objective measure has grown since the monument was created. And he is right.

Population is up eight percent, but that compares with a 50 percent increase in Utah. Employment is up five percent in Garfield but 48 percent in Utah as a whole. Income has grown but is only 70 percent of the national average income. Tourism has increased along with tourist jobs but they are mostly seasonal work.

Chip Sharpe is the principal of three high schools in the county. He fears for Escalante High School that has lost the most students.

"If we get 75 next year we'll be lucky," he said.

That is for grades seven through 12. If the trend continues, the school may close.

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