Back in the 1970s the “Sagebrush Rebellion” erupted in the West, with rural residents pushing back against federal restrictions on grazing, forestry, mining and recreational use of federal lands.
The issues have never gone away, but a case can be made that the federal government is slowly winning the war with a variety of tactics including veiled threats, grazing restrictions, logging reductions, an arduous permitting process for resource development and the use of the Endangered Species Act to stop traditional land use.
Members of the environmental community are now attempting to throw cold water on the notion that the federal lands would even be a financial benefit if legally transferred to the states. For example, the Idaho Conservation League estimates that a federal land transfer would cost Idaho roughly $100 million per year during the next 20 years.
However, Idaho residents ought to ask why Idaho’s endowment lands can be managed in a way that generates net income. In FY 2014 the 1.4 million acres of state-owned rangeland were managed on roughly a break-even basis and the 973,000 acres of forest land generated $54 million of income or about $55/acre. If the federal forests in Idaho, which are adjacent to state-owned forests, could be managed such that they generated half of that revenue per acre, the income would be $550 million.
Admittedly, these are very rough numbers but the point is that Idahoans should not be dissuaded from considering the possibility that they could manage federal forest land more cost effectively than the federal government.
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