Despite Dems’ misdirection, House approves entry into federal lands group

Dustin Hurst Headlines

Despite repeated misdirection from Democrats in the Idaho House, lawmakers approved a measure to allow Idaho to enter into a working group to examine state management of federal lands.

Multiple times on the House floor Friday, Democrats, including Mat Erpelding of Boise and Paulette Jordan of Plummer, told colleagues that Utah, the first state in the working group, allocated $12 million this year to secure federal land management.

Democrats urged colleagues not to put Idaho on the hook for that sort of money for what critics believe is a worthless and futile endeavor.

While Utah did, as Democrats say, allocate $12 million to secure land management from the feds, a significantly smaller sum will fund the state’s participation in the working group: $0.

Utah State Rep. Ken Ivory, R-West Jordan, told IdahoReporter.com Friday that out of the $12 million set aside for the push, not a dime was budgeted for the compact.

“It’s for the legal effort,” Ivory said. The Utah legislator also serves as president of the American Lands Council, a nonprofit dedicated toward securing land management for 12 Western states.

The legal effort does not, he clarified, participation in the working group.

The fiscal note attached to the spending document testifies to Ivory’s point. Utah legislators passed House Bill 132 this year, which allowed Utah to participate in the group. The fiscal note attached to the measure, provided for transparency, says the state won’t pay anything for membership, at least in the short term.

“Enactment of this legislation likely will not materially impact state expenditures,” the note reads. “However, there may be costs associated with Utah’s membership in the compact in the future.”

A March 15 Associated Press report also verifies Ivory’s point. The article explains the millions will fund lobbyists, public relations effort and consultants to aid in the push for transfer. Only $1 million will directly pay for a states’ rights lawsuit against the federal government.

Still, Jordan and Erpelding cited the $12 million figure in floor debate, using it as evidence the state would be wise to save money and stay out of the group.

“I could not find any good reason to support this bill,” Jordan said.

The measure, sponsored by Rep. Terry Gestrin, R-Donnelly, would enter Idaho into a land compact with Utah, the first participant. Other Western states are considering entry.

To formally function, the group would need congressional approval, though it could perform some advisory functions without the backing of Congress.

Rep. Stephen Hartgen, R-Twin Falls, said many of the myths peddled by opponents, including risking sovereignty and leaving Idaho open to a massive bill for group work, shouldn’t factor into votes.

“That’s not so,” Hartgen said.

Rep. Lynn Luker, R-Boise, spoke against the measure, suggesting taking a softer approach to secure Idaho land management.

“I think there’s a better way to do this,” Luker said.

Rep. Pete Nielsen, R-Mountain Home, said Idaho has waited too long to fight poor federal land practices, which he believes have damaged the state’s economy.

“When do we start?” Nielsen asked his colleagues about the attempt to transfer management. “I’m simply suggesting the time is now.”

After the 45 to 23 vote approving the bill, the plan now heads to the Senate for consideration.