Federal Lands in State Hands?
Rep. Lawrence Denney is gearing up to try to seize control of Idaho's federal lands. From the remote Owyhee Canyonlands to the rugged breaks of the Salmon River to the snow-bound peaks of the Selkirks, Idaho's public lands are critical to Idaho's quality of life. Polls indicate that Idahoans support federal land management by a margin of 3:1. So why don't our leaders?
If the state were to manage all federal lands, there would be no legal requirement to allow public access.
According to recent reports, former Speaker of the House Rep. Lawrence Denney is gearing up for an attempt to seize control of Idaho's federal lands. The effort comes on the heels of efforts in Arizona, Utah and elsewhere to wrest control of public lands from the federal government. Idaho is home to 33 million acres of federally managed lands (20 million acres of National Forests, 12 million acres managed by the Bureau of Land Management and 1 million acres managed by other federal agencies).
Idaho's leaders often suggest that Idahoans think our federal land management agencies are bumbling fools seeking to steal our freedoms.
Unfortunately, these suggestions appear wildly out of touch with reality. A recent Idaho poll—conducted by a well-respected Republican pollster—found:
- 76% of Idahoans agree that "one of the things our federal government does well is protect and preserve our national heritage through the management of forests, national parks and other public lands."
- 87% of Idahoans are "satisfied with the quality and quantity of outdoor recreational opportunities in Idaho."
- 97% of Idahoans agree that "our public lands, including forests, national parks, monuments and wildlife areas are an essential part of Idaho's quality of life."
In North Central Idaho, a recent proposal to privatize up to 40,000 acres of the Nez Perce National Forest near Grangeville came under attack from local residents and concerned stakeholders alike. Similarly, proposals from the Bush Administration came under fire when national forests were proposed for privatization.
Proposals to seize federal lands have sprouted in other states, prompted by calls from an organization called the American Lands Council. Last year, the Utah Legislature passed a bill to initiate a process to turn over 30 million acres of federal land to the state. Recent reports from the Utah Commission, established by that law, indicate that such a move would siphon money from the state's coffers.
On election day this year, voters in Arizona rejected Prop 120, which would have turned over 25 million acres to the state. That initiative failed by a margin of 2:1.
The bottom line is that for all the fed-bashing that our leaders engage in, Idahoans cherish our public lands and don't want to see them auctioned off to the highest bidder.
Stay tuned to ICL over the course of the upcoming legislative session, and we'll make sure your voice is heard.