Update: On the morning of Sept. 28, the Washington County Board of Commissioners voted 2 to 1 to approve the three ordinances. Commissioners Kirk Chandler and Lisa Collini voted in favor while Commissioner Nate Marvin voted no. They went forward with a vote despite changes to all three ordinances proposed by Chandler. Although the county attorney stated that they should “err on the side of caution” as “material changes” to ordinances would require a public hearing, Chandler and Collini went ahead with the vote.


On September 21, the Washington County Board of Commissioners held a hearing in Weiser on three ordinances that attempt to influence or limit the management of federally-administered public lands within the county.

Unfortunately for the proponents, County Commissioners Kirk Chandler and Lisa Collini, the measures were found to be unenforceable and unconstitutional by their county attorney, as well as the Idaho Attorney General.

Instead of heeding the legal advice that the ordinances would be superseded by federal and state laws and the U.S. Constitution, both Commissioners Chandler and Collini voted to keep the County Attorney’s written opinion confidential. The third Commissioner, Nate Marvin, voted to make it public.

Thankfully, the Idaho Attorney General also prepared an opinion on the ordinances, which helps to shed some light, and the legislator who requested the opinion agreed to make it public.

But first…

What would the ordinances do?

The three ordinances would attempt to interfere with public land management by limiting prescribed burning and road management, and would attempt to authorize ranchers to log and mine on federal grazing allotments.

Ordinance #86 attempts to limit controlled burns in the spring, would require “other forest management methods” before burning, and requires permission from adjacent landowners, allotment owners, the Sheriff and the County Commission. According to the Idaho Attorney General, the U.S. Constitution’s Supremacy Clause would supersede this proposal, because it would “attempt to regulate or interfere with actions of the Federal Government that are specifically allowed for by federal law and regulations…”

Ordinance #87 tries to limit road management on public lands by requiring permission from both the County Commission and Sheriff to close any road, allows the Sheriff to open any road, and requires the United States government to “allow and promote timber extraction, mining activities and grazing.” Again, this measure would run afoul of the U.S. Constitution.

Finally, Ordinance #88 would try to create property rights for ranchers holding federal allotments, where no such rights exist. It would attempt to authorize ranchers to conduct logging, water resource “improvement,” and mining on their allotments. Unfortunately, as the Idaho Attorney General emphasized, federal law makes it clear that “grazing preferences do not give rise to a property right in the land.” The Attorney General further found that the ordinance would “run afoul of the Property Clause of the U.S. Constitution… [because] only Congress may pass laws relating to the disposal of property of the United States.

So, what’s really going on?

Efforts to take over control or management of our public lands are nothing new in Idaho. In the 1980s, we had the Sagebrush Rebellion and, in the early 2010s, there was a revival of efforts to seize and control our public lands. Idahoans of all stripes and persuasions have vociferously opposed these proposals, but this undercurrent regarding public lands remains in parts of Idaho.

In contrast, there has been a much more inclusive movement of Idahoans who have come together to find collaborative solutions to the issues facing our public lands. Whether it’s concern over wildfires, a desire to see improved access and water quality, or support for land protection, these collaborative efforts have demonstrated they are a far better option than demanding title to these lands. And the State of Idaho and U.S. Forest Service have entered into a Shared Stewardship Agreement that covers all or portions of Washington, Adams, Valley and Idaho Counties, bringing in federal funding and adding capacity to implement projects on the ground. Other programs such as the Good Neighbor Authority and the Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration Program are also helping restore our forests with broad stakeholder support.

In fact, the Payette Forest Coalition has worked in partnership with the Forest Service to bring in millions of dollars for local forest restoration efforts via the Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration Program. The Weiser-Little Salmon Headwaters Restoration Program has brought together conservation advocates, county commissioners (from neighboring counties), loggers, ranchers, recreationists, land managers and others to complete restoration treatments on over 140,000 acres to date. More work is needed and folks continue to use these collaborative venues to design and implement the next series of projects.

And where is this going?

The ordinances are scheduled for a vote on Monday, September 28, 2020, around 9 a.m. at the meeting of the Washington County Board of Commissioners and will be broadcast via zoom.

If the measures pass and the Sheriff or the Commissioners attempt to enforce these ordinances against the Forest Service or Bureau of Land Management supervisors, it’s likely we could see these measures in federal court.

If the federal government does sue, there is “a significant risk that Washington County will incur significant legal costs….” meaning that county taxpayers will be on the hook. This was one of the concerns raised at the public hearing and it’s a concern shared by at least one of the commissioners.

Those concerns might not matter to Commissioner Lisa Collini, who lost her primary election in May, but they do matter to Commissioner Nate Marvin.

“I’m concerned what it could cost Washington County if this ever goes to court. We couldn’t afford it. It could bankrupt the county,” Commissioner Marvin said.

As the nation continues to reel from the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s too bad that some extreme voices are attempting to further divide us. As their own attorney and the Idaho Attorney General found, these measures are illegitimate and distract us from the hard work of coming together to find solutions that actually advance the conversation around our public lands, meet multiple needs and get meaningful work accomplished on the ground.

We encourage you to reach out to the Washington County Commission to urge them to vote NO on these ordinances and instead to work with stakeholders to find lasting solutions to the issues that face our communities.