The legislative session is winding to a close. Say what you will, but since day one, some interesting legislation has been considered that would impact how public lands are managed in Idaho.
It seems that whenever the issue of federal land management practices is raised, opponents keep hitting the same notes: the state cannot afford to manage the lands, privatization would follow, and access and use would be denied to Idahoans.
It is not a very imaginative response but perhaps it is a good way for the environmentalists to rally the base and shift the discussion away from the legitimate issue, the unacceptable standards of federal land management.
There is no smoke outside my window today, but I fear that there will be in few months. After all, 2015 was the worst wild land fire season in at least 55 years and possibly the worst since the west was settled. In Idaho around 800,000 acres burned. The future may be more terrifying.
About 20.5 million acres in Idaho are U.S. Forest Service land, roughly 38 percent of the state. Of those lands nearly 13 million are managed by the USFS and nearly 9 million of those acres face a high degree of mortality risk according to State Forester David Groeschl. That’s right, nearly 70 percent of what the USFS manages is more susceptible to fires than healthy forests.
Rather than simply wring our hands, the Idaho Freedom Foundation supported a number of bills in 2016 to tackle this threat.
IFF supported Senate Bill 1338, relating to abatement of public nuisances, which would have allowed counties in Idaho to identify high fire-risk federal lands as “catastrophic public nuisances,” and request abatement from federal agencies, in the form of brush clearing, thinning and logging to reduce the threat of wildland fires. The legislation, although clearly constitutional per an opinion from the Idaho Attorney General’s Office, brought out the opposition in full force.
On the one hand we were told the legislation would grant no new powers to county commissioners, on the other that it would lead to the transfer and privatization of federal lands. The sad reality is the environmental community is trying to distract Idahoans. For example the Idaho Conservation League’s Mission and Vision states that the organization exists to, “protect the air you breathe, the water you drink, and the land you love.” If so, fire-risk abatement sounds like it fits their mission statement to a T.
Another piece of legislation, House Bill 582, described how any lands transferred from the federal government to the state of Idaho would be managed for multiple use and sustained yield. It might surprise many people, but the Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976 (FLPMA) required public lands to be managed for multiple use. Over the last 40 years, the BLM has increasingly deferred to environmentalists to define and therefore limit that use. Again, opponents don’t want to discuss the failure of federal land managers to follow FLPMA’s multiple-use requirement, they would rather impugn the motives of those who call for a better management strategy.
Finally, House Bill 586 intended to require the Idaho legislature to approve any future transfer or sale of land to the federal government. This bill foundered on the notion that it was an infringement on private property rights; nevertheless, it will probably come back next session in an improved version.
Sometimes the advancement of good ideas takes time. In Idaho, the clock has started for a better blueprint for the management of federal lands.