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Public Lands on the Chopping Block

Posted by Jonathan Oppenheimer at Jul 08, 2013 05:05 PM |

An interim legislative committee is set to consider the prospect of a takeover of all federally-managed public lands in the state of Idaho. The radical proposal threatens core Idaho values and could lead to a wholesale sell-off of Idaho's most special places.

Public Lands on the Chopping Block

Idaho's public lands are an essential part of our heritage and should not be subject to political winds of the day. J. Oppenheimer photo.

On August 9, an interim legislative committee is set to consider the prospect of a takeover of all federally-managed public lands in the state of Idaho. This radical proposal threatens core Idaho values and could lead to a wholesale sell-off of Idaho's most special places.  

The Interim Committee resulted from passage of two resolutions during the 2012 Idaho legislative session. Among other things, the purpose of the committee is to determine "the extent to which public land may be sold."

We detailed our concerns with the proposal here and here.

Idaho is not alone, however.

A new report from the National Wildlife Federation reports that at least seven western states have considered or enacted similar legislation. Among other things, the NWF report finds that public lands are essential to our economy and our quality of life.

The Outdoor Industry Association reports that outdoor recreation, much of it on federally-managed public lands, generates 77,000 direct Idaho jobs, $6.3 billion in spending and $1.8 billion in wages.

Polling conducted in 2012 affirmed that 97% of Idahoans consider our public lands essential to Idaho's quality of life. That same poll, conducted by respected Republican pollster Moore Information, found that 73% of Idahoans agreed that one of the things our federal government does well is protect and preserve our national heritage through the management of our forests, parks and other public lands.

Unfortunately, Idaho's leaders appear to be out of touch with Idaho values and more aligned with the values of the American Legislative Exchange Council, which has been promoting similar efforts throughout the west.

Idaho's leaders want to ignore the fact that our forests and public lands are treasures that belong to all Idahoans and all Americans, they want to ignore the fact that this land-grab is unconstitutional, and they want to sell off millions of acres in Hells Canyon, the Sawtooths, the Clearwater and the Selkirks.

The first meeting of the Interim Committee is scheduled for August 9 in the Capitol's East Wing, Room EW42 at 9 am. We'll be there, will you?

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Sale of public lands in Idaho

Posted by JP Carver at Jul 10, 2013 06:18 PM
OK, so we sell off all the public lands. Are the private owners going to live on their purchase year 'round? Are they going to hire private forest management? Are they going to have personnel and equipment in place to fight nature caused fires? Are they going to have the same in place to fight a fire that is human caused and burns down their neighbor's home? Are they going to manage the wildlife that may cause fouling of water, rerouting of water flow and endanger farm livestock? Are they going to manage recreation so the people who believe they have a right to ride their ATVs anywhere have the keys for the locks on the fences? Is it going to be an auction or are realtors going to manage the sales? And, after all the public land is sold, are we going to rent, lease or buy surface acreage on the lakes?

Sell off?

Posted by Isaiah Grose at Jul 11, 2013 12:39 PM
First, I agree that PRIVATE ownership of Idaho PUBLIC lands, or some sort of sell off is a very, very BAD idea. And I agree that what was stated that a giant majority of Idahoans "consider our public lands essential to Idaho's quality of life". And also that the outdoors and access to those areas is a huge benefit to living in Idaho. Those areas are also a huge benefit to the local economies.

For those reasons, I don't think that any sort of a wholesale sell off would EVER be on the table. I think what they are trying to accomplish is a much more effective MANAGEMENT of our Idaho forests by reducing the bureaucratic red tape.

When you go look at the ACTUAL HEALTH of a forest, everything included from birds and bees to elk to wolves to the trees, grasses, and other forbes animals feed on, EVERYTHING, and you compare a state or tribal management area to a federally managed area, the federal lands are woefully SICK. The qaility of the forest is in bad shape because of the 'hands off' management style of the forest service. Every summer forest fires rage because of this practice. And every year there are places that burn so hot that it scorches the earth, sterilizing it and keeping it from producing anything from years to come. I'm definitely not saying we go in an strip all the land of trees either, but managed, controlled burns in selected areas SIGNIFICANTLY REDUCE the number of acres burned by creating pockets of timber that have had the excessive fuels burned out. This opens the land for the grasses, huckleberries, buckbrush, etc to take hold. The surviving trees can grow unencumbered by the increased access to sunlight.

Similarly, selected thinning of particularly dense stands of timber IS a good idea. This also reduces the fuels available for forest fires to take hold. Right now, there is so much red tape on federal as opposed to state managed lands that the companies that would normally go in and make that harvest don't want to bother. A standard state sale is maybe 20 pages thick. A federal land harvest is a half ream of paper. Along with that is the FACT that the profit from logging on federal lands is exceptionally low compared to state lands. So low it makes it not worth the effort, in most cases.

And let's not forget that the vast majority of roads that all of us enjoy to be able to ACCESS the the public lands we love were originally made by timber and mining companies. Without that infrastructure, these beautiful places we love would be inaccessable and unknown, unless we had a helicopter. Places like Big Creek, Yellow Pine,

Again, I agree a sell-off would be devastating. But I think that state MANAGEMENT of federal lands is a good thing and creates healthy forests. Those healthy forests then teem with wildlife of every shape and size. Don't you agree that there is an issue with the hand's off approach of our so-called Forest Service?

The link to the "two resolutions" is an op-ed article.

Please consider the actual health of the forests and the animals in it.


Posted by Isaiah Grose at Jul 12, 2013 05:40 PM
Please note that I agree with one of the proposals to develop a commitee to figure out how to best manage our forests. And I vehemently disagree with state ownership as the proposal stands and how it states Idaho would be able to sell off lands. However, I would be for a proposal where federal lands are managed by the state for the good of the state and not sold.

Perfect example is trying to go hunting in the East. You can't unless you have land because the entire eastern seaboard is PRIVATE land....

So a sell off is a very, very bad idea.

Response to Isiah

Posted by Jonathan Oppenheimer at Jul 15, 2013 12:45 PM
Thanks for your comments, there's a lot there, but I wanted to take a moment to respond.
There is no doubt that fire suppression and historic logging practices have left their mark across millions of acres of national forests. At the same time, to claim that state lands are "healthier" than national forests is a bit of a stretch.
In terms of the severity of fires on national forests, we released a report evaluating the impacts of the 2007 fire season that found that within Idaho's largest fires (mostly on national forests and BLM lands) 57% of areas impacted were lightly burned, or not burned at all. Only 16% burned with high severity.
ICL will be issuing a revised report this year looking back at the 2012 fire season, and the results are anticipated to be very similar.
At the same time, ICL is working around the state with the Forest Service, timber industry, rural development interests and others to support efforts to restore and manage our forests, as there is not doubt that there are areas where management is needed. However, millions of acres in Idaho's backcountry are entirely appropriate for hands-off management (as you refer to it). Research from Trout Unlimited several years ago found that roadless areas (also generally hands off) provide the best habitat and harbour the biggest and healthiest populations of fish and wildlife in Idaho. See[…]/Roadless_Idaho.pdf
Finally, we agree that roads and trails are important to access our public lands. However did you know that the lands administered by the Idaho Department of Lands are not even public? In the words of IDL, "These lands are not managed for use by the general public." See
Thanks again for your comment,

first name then corrections

Posted by Isaiah Grose at Jul 23, 2013 05:19 PM
My name isn't that hard to spell. Its right in front of you...

The IDL site is talking about ENDOWMENT LANDS. And these are still public lands by the way. Those lands are not MANAGED for use by the public. So I am not sure what you are saying there. As the ENDOWMENT identifies a need for funding in the schools, they work to make that happen and meet that need. Still public lands, and public access. The roads are not MANAGED for public access, specifically, meaning as I understand it, they aren't going to go and put a road into a favorite trout stream, but if they have a need and putting that road in meets that need, so be it. That access can still be used by the public.

You also miss the other 27% of lands that were badly burned, but not severely.

And that misses the point entirely. Go to

Notice that in 2012, 1.75 MILLION acres burned. How can you possibly think that our forests are healthy?

"(O)n the 6 million acres of state lands and those for which the Lands Department provides fire protection, only 4,674 acres burned this year. That's only half of the historic average of just over 9,000 acres."[…]/

So of the 1.75 MILLION acres burned, 4,674 were on IDL lands. Maybe forest management should go directly to them....

Don't you think state management, and the ability to place some strategic controlled burns througout the public land system in our state, perhaps even a light thinning area, would keep the severe and the bad fires, at bay?

Perhaps the 214 MILLION spent across the state fighting 1.75 MILLION acres of wildfire would be better spent actually managing and preventing catastrophic losses of resources, rather that fighting the fires that start.

Response to management

Posted by Geo Wuerthner at Jul 24, 2013 08:33 AM
I'd like to respond to Mr. Grose's comments.

There are several misconceptions which I will discuss in a general way, not necessarily entirely specific to his comments.

1. The idea that national forests are "unhealthy" is an economically based and biased viewpoint because some consider dead trees a "waste" of resources. Ecologically speaking a healthy forest has a lot of dead trees. Indeed, 45% of all bird species depend on dead trees. Over 1200 native bee species depend on dead trees. 2/3 of all wildlife species in NA use dead trees at some time in their lives. Dead trees are important to aquatic ecosystems where 50% of the cover and habitat in small to medium streams and rivers is from dead trees. Dead trees are also a big store house of nutrients. I could go on--but suffice to say dead trees are more important to a healthy forest ecosystem than live trees.

And while trees are always dying the major source for recruitment of dead trees in our forests is wildfire, disease and/or insects like pine beetles. These inputs are episodic. In other words, you have a major fire or beetle outbreak and that is the major supply of dead trees for the next hundred years.

So the sign of a healthy forest ecosystem is one with episodic inputs of dead trees.

A second point to recognize is that logging does not significantly decrease forest fires or acreage burned. You can easily see this for yourself since a lot of wildfires burn through "managed" lands. Indeed, in most of the West (maybe not Idaho because it has so much roadless lands) the vast majority of acreage burned is in managed forests--both state and federal lands as well as corporate lands managed exclusively for timber production. For instance, a recent fire near Klamath Falls Oregon burned through the "managed" forest of Collins Pine and similarly many of the acresge burned in recent years in Montana were Plum Creek lands.

There is not a lot of evidence that thinning or even prescribed burning can significantly reduce fire spread--which is why even these corporate managed lands burn in some years.

There are a number of reasons for this. First you have to severely reduce fuels--the kind of thinning that is effective is not the kind of forest most people find acceptable. Furthermore, you must continuously maintain fuel reductions--continously burn and thin the area--you can't just treat it once and walk away. Thus effective fuel reductions cannot be done on a large scale area--which is why so many fuel reduction projects fail to significantly influence fire spread.

Finally even if everything is done right, fuel reductions frequently fail under severe fire weather conditions that include low humidity, high temp, drought, and most importantly high winds. When you have these conditions, fires burn through every kind of forest stand that exists or non-existent stands like recent clearcuts. In particular wind can carry burning embers several miles making fire lines, fuel reductions, etc. an easy obstacle for a fire to jump over.

In the places where it may appear to affect fire behavior and spread the conditions for a major fire often do not exist. In other words, under less than severe fire weather you can usually put out a fire or the fire spread is rather slow and more easily contained.

It is only the large fires--driven by winds--that we care about since these are the ones most likely to threaten homes. But since you can't predict where a fire will burn, the most rationale thing is to manage the lands immediately around the home and community. That means reducing the flammability of the immediate area around any structure.

Strategic thinning and fuel reductions immediately adjacent to a house or community is likely a good idea--because this is a place one can maintain with regular maintenance. And while one can't predict where a fire will occur (hence one can't know where to do fuel reductions in the forest landcape), we all can agree that we don't want towns to burn down, etc. So focusing efforts on these places is a strategic and wise use of resources.

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