Congressman Raul Labrador joined the effort to transfer land management to Western states, who believe they can handle the duties in more fiscally responsible ways.
Labrador’s spokesman, Dan Popkey, confirmed to IdahoReporter.com this week that Labrador, a two-term U.S House veteran, joined the Federal Land Action Group.
That group, founded by Utah Republican Congressmen Rob Bishop and Chris Stewart, will push the federal government to give states more power over lands within their own borders.
“The federal government has been a lousy landlord for western states and we simply think the states can do it better,” Stewart said in a prepared statement released April 28.
The group will study public lands policy and host forums on the issue, the congressman said in April, to further the goals of transfer.
Idaho’s other U.S. House member, nine-term Republican Mike Simpson, is not a member of the group, Stewart’s office confirmed to IdahoReporter.com Wednesday afternoon.
Nikki Wallace, Simpson’s communication director, did not respond to an email about Simpson’s interest.
For his part, Labrador has voiced strong support for state land management, suggesting Idaho can provide access for hunting, fishing and other recreation while also generating more revenue for roads, schools and other government programs.
“I think those lands were not necessarily supposed to be there for the coffers of the federal government,” Labrador told the Kuna-Melba News last month. “They were state lands…given to the federal government at the time. I think we can manage them for the state coffers but we can have the access.”
The Republican congressman has championed a bill to allow states like Idaho, Utah and Nevada to manage up to 1 percent of the federal land within their borders as a pilot project.
“It would allow every state to do the same thing, so that we can show the federal government that we can manage those lands under our state management practices better than they can,” the congressman added.
The effort to transfer land management grows as voices like Labrador, Stewart, Bishop and others repeat the refrain of economic growth and states’ rights.
The federal government owns large swaths of land across the American West. More than 60 percent of Idaho land is federal property. The federal government holds title to more than 80 percent of Nevada land, 66 percent of Utah and just more than 61 percent of Alaska.
Conversely, the federal government holds title to less than 1 percent of Connecticut.
Utah leads the pack after appropriating more than $12 million in state spending next year to fund legal fees, federal lobbyists, public relations agencies and other efforts to secure transfer.
Idaho considered joining a Western states working group during the 2015 legislative session, but concerns about costs and language led to the bill’s demise in the Idaho Senate. The measure previously cleared the full Idaho House.
A March 2015 study by the Property and Environment Research Council, a Montana-based think tank, fueled the embers. While PERC’s report had some obvious limitations, the group found the federal government loses money on state land management, while states generate cash.
Among the report’s damning features, PERC revealed two federal land management agencies return 73 cents for every dollar invested in management. The two agencies, the Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service, lose more than $2 billion annually.
Critics, including environmental activists who oppose anything close to transfer, suggest states would sell off lands to oil, gas and mining companies.