The following guest opinion, entitled “HEARD Act threatens public lands,” was published in the Idaho Mountain Express on Jan. 23, 2019. This piece highlights some concerns the Idaho Conservation League has with the Hunting, Education and Recreational Development Act (HEARD) Act, a recent attempt to facilitate the sale of a specific type of public lands. ICL works diligently to keep public lands in public hands and, in doing so, we keep tabs on these proposals as they arise.
If you are interested in providing input on how our public lands are managed here in Idaho, we have an opportunity to do just that on the Salmon-Challis National Forest. The U.S. Forest Service is currently considering potential recommended wilderness as part of their forest plan revision. Speak up now — the comment period is open through Feb. 28!
The Idaho Mountain Express story “Bill could ramp up sale of BLM ‘disposable lands’ in region” (Jan. 2) detailed how the proposed HEARD Act could affect BLM lands in the Wood River Valley. I’d encourage anyone interested in learning more to look at the excellent story map (ourland.arizona.edu/index.html) created by the University of Arizona’s Our Lands campaign. The city of Hailey was highlighted in its analysis as one of the most severely impacted communities if the HEARD Act becomes law.
Like many in this valley, I care deeply about our public lands and the value they bring to our community. At the Idaho Conservation League, we’ve been advocating on behalf of Idaho’s treasured public lands since 1973.
Public lands make Idaho Idaho. They are one of the main reasons many of us choose to live here. That said, there are fragmented and isolated parcels of public land that are difficult to manage. Exchanging some of these isolated and unmanageable parcels might make a lot of sense, but only if it’s done thoughtfully and carefully considers the different ways those lands contribute to our local economy and way of life.
Strategic land exchanges or sales can allow for the acquisition of other more sensitive areas and provide communities with necessary land for housing, infrastructure or other local needs. In fact, there is an existing process to do just that. But these decisions must be based on accurate, up-to-date assessments by the BLM of the value of the lands proposed for sale, and what the real values of the land are to the public.
Existing BLM recommendations to dispose of lands around Hailey were written in 1982. Since then, many of these “disposable lands” have evolved to support world-class recreational trails for hikers, mountain bikers and OHV users in areas such as Croy Canyon. Additionally, some of the public lands identified for disposal decades ago are now recognized as critical habitat for wildlife, such as sage grouse.
The problem with the proposed HEARD Act, introduced by Rep. Paul Gosa, R-Ariz., is that it mandates public land disposals based on outdated information and sets a deadline by which those land disposal transactions must occur. There is no need to fast-track or mandate the liquidation of our public lands. Hopefully, the HEARD Act doesn’t get a hearing in the new Congress, because once public lands are gone, they are gone forever. Under the existing law, any proposed sale of public lands must undergo public involvement, and the local community has an opportunity to describe current values of these places. More importantly, the BLM can deny a sale if it is deemed not to be in the public’s best interest. Unfortunately, if the HEARD Act were to pass, we could lose that critical public voice. We encourage you to share these concerns with your congressional representatives.
The HEARD Act is a cautionary reminder to not become complacent about how our public lands are managed. Proper management of public lands requires up-to-date consideration of the values we want to protect. The good news is that right now, you have the chance to do just that on a massive piece of our public lands—the 4.3 million-acre Salmon-Challis National Forest—by providing input on its long-term forest plan. The forest plan identifies land acquisition and exchange priorities, areas to manage specifically for wildlife or recreation and areas to keep in a natural state for future wilderness consideration. If you have a special place you like to hike, hunt, camp, fish or ride, don’t take it for granted. Weigh in now by going to idahoconservation.org/takeaction.
Josh Johnson is a conservation associate for the Idaho Conservation League.