The Idaho Senate approved a proposal to set up a Working Lands Fund to encourage stewardship of farms, forests, and other public and private land. The nine-member board would include four members of state agencies, representatives from livestock, farming, forestry, and two members representing the interests of hunting, fishing or wildlife conservation. The legislation wouldn’t allocate state spending for the fund, which would operate out of the Office of Species Conservation.
“It allows the state to establish a foundation for a well-designed grant management program,” said Sen. Charles Coiner, R-Twin Falls. The fund could receive private donations for working land conservation. “It makes sense for them to cooperate and coordinate outcomes.”
Sen. Tim Corder, R-Mountain Home, said the fund should keep farms in Idaho. “It’s the state’s responsibility to preserve ag lands,” he said. He added that the Treasure Valley has seen too much farm land disappear. “We’ve got parking lots and malls on the best farm land in this state.”
Some senators opposed creating another state fund and board. “By forming the board, we are growing our state government,” said Sen. Steve Bair, R-Blackfoot. “There seems to be no purpose in my mind… why the state should begin funding conservation easements.” Those easements could be potential use of fund dollars, if Idaho lawmakers decide to use state money for the fund in the future.
Sen. Jeff Siddoway, R-Terreton, said he opposed the fund because it won’t serve his interests as a sheep rancher. “None of those priorities (for the fund) talk about ranching and farming,” he said. “They talk about hunting and fishing and access to recreation.” He added that funding won’t solve the problems of agricultural businesses. “We don’t want your money. What we want is the help of these groups instead of adding to the weight and the burden (facing ranchers and farmers).”