Members of the Idaho Legislature’s Federal Lands Interim Committee were told Friday the possibility of transferring to state control the approximately 32 million acres of land within the Gem State that are currently under the control of the federal government will be extremely difficult. Such an undertaking, they heard, will require lots of strategic planning best accomplished with small, incremental developments.
“This battle has been going on for years,” said Jim Riley, professional forester and owner of a forest policy consulting firm in Coeur D’Alene. “I can tell you stories from back in the days of Gov. Kempthorne,” referring to former Gov. Dirk Kempthorne.
Riley told the committee that he had suggested to Kempthorne that Idaho pursue a more active course with the management of the lands that are otherwise under federal control. “He (Kempthorne) said to me ‘why do you think we should do that? That’s one of the most difficult and controversial things we could attempt.’”
“I still see the county governments as key to improving land management,” said Rep. Terry Gestrin, R-Donnelly, a member of the committee. A former Valley County commissioner, Gestrin asked “would you agree with that? Should we have county officials working with us?”
“I absolutely think that is important,” replied James Caswell, a former staffer at the U.S. Bureau of Land Management and former Kempthorne aide. “Having a local official close to the land, county commissioners in particular, can significantly enhance the prospects of improving things.”
Sen. Chuck Winder, R-Boise, commented that “we’re starting with the assumption that there will be some regions of land that we’re just not going to try and touch, despite how much we might want to, at least we won’t right away. What types of projects do you believe are reasonable and achievable for us?”
“The Endangered Species Act (ESA) is probably the most perfect bill ever created,” replied Michael Bogert, a Boise-based consultant and another former Kempthorne advisor. “It is a third rail. You can’t touch it, it can’t be changed and it is effectively a land management tool, so it will be with us for a while. I think a reasonable project would be to continue to analyze the ESA, but think in terms of mitigating its impact. To the extent that there is a freedom-based, market-based approach where conditions for endangered species can be improved, I would think that this would be a worthwhile type of project to undertake for Idahoans.”
Bogert also warned the committee that just as the ESA is problematic for individual states, so also is the Rangeland Renewable Resources Planning Act, and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). “The EPA can administratively order allegedly responsible parties to undertake environmental cleanup efforts even when they have shown no liability,” he explained.
Steve Allred, also a former Kempthorne staffer, advised the committee against trying to take on the United States Congress. “In Washington, D.C., there is a huge disconnect in how the states are perceived and the differences between the states east of the Mississippi and states west of the Mississippi. In the eastern states there are, effectively, no federal public lands per se, not like those that exist in the western states. So I would suggest that efforts you undertake that might require congressional action might be ineffectual.”
James Caswell, formerly of U.S. Department of the Interior, told the committee that it may need to consider creating an additional state agency to communicate with all the intrusive federal agencies. Describing it as a state-based “master stewardship agency,” Caswell noted that “this can be an effective tool you can use to better enable Idaho to coordinate communication with multiple state agencies and multiple agencies in Washington, D.C.”
After the committee hearing, IdahoReporter.com spoke with Kathleen Clarke, director of the public lands policy coordination office for the governor of Utah, who had testified at the hearing. “In Utah, our office enables the state to speak with one concise voice to the federal government,” she stated.
Additionally, Gestrin elaborated to IdahoReporter.com on his thoughts about county governments. “We have got to get the county governments engaged on this and to keep them engaged,” he said. “In some ways it seems to me like we’re having some of the same conversations today that we were having at the county level back in the ‘90s when I was a county commissioner. But these are positive and constructive discussions that are going on right now. State and county agencies have got to work together if we’re going to see improvement.”