Representatives from 14 states recently convened in Salt Lake City to discuss an issue of critical importance to the future of both the West and the nation as a whole. The issue is the management and control of the hundreds of millions of acres of public land currently claimed by the federal government. While the feds control land in each of the 50 states, the vast majority of this land is concentrated in the western states (including Alaska.)
While there are several complex legal reasons why the control of this land properly belongs with the states, perhaps the most compelling reasons are the practical ones. Simply put, state and local control of public lands will provide better public access, better environmental health and better economic productivity. The states seeking control of their respective public lands are not doing so because they wish to dispose of or sell off this land, but because they want to maintain and improve it.
In April of 2013 the Idaho Legislature passed two House Concurrent Resolutions dealing with the issue of federal public lands.
In HCR022, the language used is quite explicit: "the Legislature of the State of Idaho demands that the federal government imminently transfer title to all of the public lands within Idaho's borders directly to the State of Idaho." The resolution also calls for the creation of an interim committee to "review how to manage access, open space, sustainable yields and the multiple use of the public lands and to determine, through a public process, the extent to which public land may be sold."
HCR021 provides for setting up an interim committee to "undertake and complete a study of the process for the State of Idaho to acquire title to and control of public lands controlled by the federal government."
While much of the conversation surrounding the transfer of federal public lands has been focused on if the state should pursue such a goal, the reality is that the Legislature has already made its decision. Our goals now must be to determine how Idaho can obtain control of the lands and to focus on how best to manage the lands to insure better public access, better environmental health and better economic productivity.
From improving the efficiency of wildfire control to increasing local involvement and accountability to protecting and preserving use rights, customs, and land-based livelihoods, the transfer of federal public lands will unquestionably result in a better Idaho and a better future for us all.