For the Idaho Statesman’s Rocky Barker, inferences and experience trump polling.
Barker, the paper’s environmental scribe, authored a detailed piece about user fees on public lands last week. Introducing the topic, Barker suggested state control of land within its borders isn’t incredibly popular.
“Even among the minority of Idahoans who believe the federal public lands should be turned over to the state, most people vehemently protest the idea that such a radical move should force the widespread sale of these lands,” Barker wrote in the Sept. 18 piece.
When asked for polling or data to support his assertion that only a minority of Idahoans supports transferring control of lands to the state, Barker veered another direction.
“I’ve seen no poll that changes my opinion on that,” Barker said, adding that, “It’s clearly a minority” supporting transfer.
He offered even more. “I do it based on my deduction as a journalist who’s covered Idaho for 30 years,” the veteran writer said.
Polling tells a much different story. Idaho Politics Weekly, sponsored by Zion’s Bank, released a poll in January suggesting 51 percent of Idahoans support the Legislature’s attempt to wrest control of lands from the federal government. The survey, featuring 607 Idahoans, revealed only 38 percent of Idahoans oppose the idea. The poll found 11 percent didn’t know about the issue.
The survey had a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percent.
Given the poll, Barker remained unconvinced.
“I’m skeptical of that number,” he said during a phone interview. Polling, he said, doesn’t always provide enough context for respondents. Adding important details, Barker added, morphs a simple survey into a push poll.
“That’s why I’m skeptical of polling in general,” he added.
Despite his agnostic stance toward polling, Barker offered as evidence to support his claim a 2014 survery from the Center for American Progress, an ultra-left think tank concerned with global warming, building up labor unions and raising the minimum wage.
That poll, taken about a year ago, suggested residents of eight intermountain states -- Utah, Nevada, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, Colorado, Wyoming and New Mexico -- wanted nothing to do with the proposal. That survey asked only 200 Idahoans and featured a margin of error of plus or minus 7 percent.
The issue continues bubbling as Republican legislators look for ways to gain more control of lands within state borders. Utah leads the charge and has appropriated money for a legal challenge, plus lobbying and public relations efforts.
The federal government holds the title to more than 35 million Utah acres, about 66 percent of the state. That’s No. 2 in the country. Nevada, where the government owns 81 percent of the land, sits at the top of the dubious list.
Idaho sits at No. 3. The federal government owns 32.6 million of Idaho’s 52.9 million acres, or about 62 percent.
Idaho House members passed legislation earlier this year to explore transfer, but the Senate Resources and Conservation Committee shot it down. Idaho Freedom Foundation and Idaho Farm Bureau supported the legislation, while environmental groups opposed it.
Barker, who called transfer “radical” in his column, says Idaho ownership of land within its borders is little more than a political dream. “There’s no way it will ever happen,” Barker said.
He added that he favored “alternative management” methods and continues exploring that evolving topic.
That’s positive because super fires are slowly becoming a regular thing in Western summers. Reason Foundation detailed this progression and gave solutions, but didn’t offer much hope:
“Past efforts to reorient the priorities of the Forest Service and BLM have often floundered due to pressure from vested interests – and such pressures are unlikely to disappear,” foundation writer Julian Morris wrote earlier this month. “Employees of federal agencies seek to protect their jobs. Homeowners and business in forested areas demand ‘protection’ from fires. And environmental activists vigorously oppose a resumption of logging.”