Does it make financial sense to transfer lands managed by the federal government to state and local control? Determining the answer requires a
complex analysis that makes assumptions based on recent observations and data. Such assumptions would include current and future timber prices, opportunities for other economic activity on public lands, fire suppression costs, regulation and management costs and so on.
The University of Idaho recently examined these questions and, in a 20-page report, concluded that it would cost the state millions of dollars to manage the lands in the state. But the report generalizes in its assumptions, for example, suggesting that it will cost $40 million to contain fires, using past forest and rangeland fires as an indicator of future fire suppression activities, rather than using state and private land management and fire costs as benchmark.
The report leans heavily on timber income, noting the worst to best case scenario is $35 million to $170 million, but the report intentionally avoided any discussion of grazing, minerals, including rare earths, and energy that might be realized on a combination of US Forest Service and BLM lands, which might also generate significant income for Idahoans. Because of this, the report very likely underestimates the job creation that might occur in conjunction with opening public lands to additional activity. Instead, the report puts a premium on the loss of federal jobs.
The transfer of public lands is, without a doubt, a complex economic question. It is so complex that the state of Utah, looking at the same problem, commissioned an 800-page analysis of the issue. The University of Idaho’s study doesn’t come close to the same level of analysis, which is why it should be labeled, as they say in academia, “incomplete.” Idahoans deserve a comprehensive study of the issues, and they haven’t gotten one yet.