If the Idaho Legislature Federal Lands Interim Committee wanted citizen input on transferring federal lands control in Idaho to the state, it received an earful Monday at a Boise hearing that took nearly seven hours. At issue was a discussion on the possibility of the state securing control of the approximately 32 million acres of land within Idaho that are currently under the control of the federal government.
During the hearing, members of the committee, comprised of both members of the House and the Senate, received input from tribal groups, outdoor recreationalists, grazing industry experts, environmental groups and timber industry representatives.
“When you’re growing trees, something is going to remove them, either fire or active management,” said Bob Boeh, a representative of the Idaho Forest Group. “We think active management is the way to go. When you manage forests you make money. When you fight fires you spend money.”
Boeh and Jerry Deckard of the Associated Logging Contractors both suggested that the federal government’s management of Idaho lands is inadequate and that the inadequacies have allowed forested areas to grow uncontrollably thus creating forest fire hazards. They also suggested that the logging and timber industries, and therefore rural counties, would be served better with state control of the lands.
“It is clear that the current federal management arrangements have left Mother Nature to her own devices,” Deckard told the committee. “It is management by fire.”
Currently, approximately 62 percent of the state is controlled by the federal government. The prospect of those federally controlled lands being deeded to the state of Idaho became concern last spring when the Legislature passed two resolutions that set the land transfer process in motion.
While some Idahoans champion the advantages of Idaho being able to expand logging and timber production and the use of natural resources, others remain viscerally opposed to the idea.
“I’m from Chicago and if you come from a state that doesn’t have public lands like Idaho does, you appreciate them more,” testified Holly Endersby, of the Montana-based Backcountry Hunters and Anglers organization. “We are a national conservationist group in the spirit of Teddy Roosevelt. We are conservationists, not environmentalists.” Noting that her organization boasts members throughout the United States, Europe and Australia, Endersby said that “every other nation in the world wishes that it had the public lands that Idaho has.”
Endersby was joined by Scott Stouder, of the Arlington, Va.-based based Trout Unlimited conservationist group in opposing the transfer of federal lands to state control. “I live in this state because of these federally controlled lands,” Stouder stated. Both he and Endersby told the committee that having access to federally controlled public lands is “an American birthright.”
Sen. John Tippetts, R-Montepelier, a member of the committee, questioned two other opponents of the land transfer proposal who testified at the hearing.
After Marty Morache of the Ada County Fish and Game League voiced his opposition to the state assuming control of federal lands, Tippets asked “Are you concerned that the state would be less protective of these lands than the federal government?”
Morache responded that should the federal lands be transferred to the state, they would likely be placed under the jurisdiction of the Idaho Department of Lands (IDL), an agency that has a constitutional mandate to manage public lands to produce a fiduciary return.
Later in the committee hearing, Jonathan Oppenheimer of the Idaho Conservation League spoke in opposition to the proposals, saying the transfers would “break the bank” of the state, reduce access to public lands and diminish water quality. “We recommend that you table the proposals,” he told the legislators.
Tippets than asked Oppenheimer: “Is it necessarily the case that, if the state were to take control of these lands, they would be placed under control of the IDL?”
Oppenheimer, acknowledging that he is not an attorney, said that “in my layman’s read of the constitution there is language there that suggests that this would happen, but I am aware that the attorney general’s office has suggested that this wouldn’t necessarily be so.”
Others testifying suggested that the current federal control of Idaho lands is damaging select industries and holding back the overall state economy.
“Our business has shrunk down under federal control,” said Harry Soulen, president of the Idaho Wool Growers Association. “This has decreased the tax base and has hurt rural counties.”
Similarly, Richard Savage of the Idaho Cattle Association noted that “constant regulatory expansion has reduced grazing” and that “the security of our industry in Idaho is at great risk.”
Prior to the committee hearing, Rep. Mike Moyle, R-Star, told IdahoReporter that “the goal is to make these lands (the Idaho lands currently under federal control) productive again,” and “to not burn the house down.”
Following the hearing, Rep. Terry Gestrin, R-Donnelly, a member of the committee, told IdahoReporter.com that nothing he heard changes his support for the proposed land transfer.
“I think there are a lot of people who don’t like the devil that brought them to the dance, but we’re afraid of the devil that we don’t know,” Gestrin said. “We can formulate a plan to manage these lands and to address people’s concerns.”