Western Values Project released a leaked copy of a documentary created with taxpayer funds by Mike Noel, a Utah state representative and Executive Director of the Kane County Water Conservancy District. Noel plans to debut his documentary, “Dixie National Forest: The Brian Head Fire,” at a meeting in the state capitol today of the Utah Commission for the Stewardship of Public Lands. In a highly unusual move, Noel has said that the film was funded by the Kane County Water Conservancy District.
You can find a copy of the leaked documentary here.
“This is an egregious example of wasting taxpayers dollars. Not only is it an inappropriate use of funds, but it gives credibility to some of the most extreme anti-public lands activists in the state,” said Chris Saeger, executive director of the Western Values Project. “Utah taxpayers should demand immediate answers from State Representative Mike Noel as to how this was an appropriate use of their funds.”
According to their website, the Kane County Water Conservancy District is “authorized to acquire, own, and operate a water system, borrow money and issue bonds, and levy and collect taxes.” It fails to mention any authority to produce documentaries. As executive director, Noel earns $120,492 annually from the Kane County Water Conservancy District.
The film, without evidence, blames conservationists for the 2017 Brian Head fire and argues for the transfer of public lands management to state control. The documentary, featuring a colorful cast of characters from the land transfer movement, is part of Noel’s efforts to persuade U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Sonny Purdue to transfer the management of national forests to the state of Utah.
Interviewees highlighted in the leaked film include Kane County Commissioner Jim Matson, who is under investigation for the misuse of county dollars, Garfield County Commissioner Leland Pollock, who has in the past compared Bureau of Land Management (BLM) agents to “the Gestapo of the World War II era,” and Panguitch Lake Resort owner Veronica Polidori, who was fined $30,000 for the pollution of Panguitch Lake in 2012.
According to a study by the University of Utah, Utah State University, and Weber State University, a public lands management transfer would cost the state $280 million annually.