New Research: Idaho may have unlawfully sold hundreds of thousands of acres of state land

Findings further question claims by politicians that public lands won’t be sold off if given to the state.

Contacts:

Brad Brooks, The Wilderness Society, 208-870-9043; brad_brooks@tws.org

Jonathan Oppenheimer, Idaho Conservation League, 208-345-6933 x26; joppenheimer@idahoconservation.org

BOISE, Idaho (February 22, 2017)The Wilderness Society (TWS) and Idaho Conservation League (ICL) released results of new research today that reveal what appear to be widespread violations of the Idaho constitutional limit on how much land the State Land Board can sell to private parties. The new findings further deflate claims by public land takeover advocates that Idaho citizens won’t be locked out of their forests and recreation lands if they are given to the state.

 The sales in question span nearly a century, from statehood in 1890 until sales in the 1980s.

 “Everyday Idahoans lose when the lands they use for hunting, snowmobiling, camping and hiking are sold off and locked up,” said Jonathan Oppenheimer, ICL’s director of government relations. “Now it appears that the state of Idaho has a history of breaking its own Constitution to hand public land to private ownership.”

 A review of requested public records revealed 300 separate instances where individuals, businesses and corporations appear to have exceeded the constitutional limit of 320 acres and 160 acres for buying up state-owned “public school” lands and state owned “university school” lands, respectively. These limits were put in place at statehood to keep land barons and other powerful interests from taking advantage of Idaho land and people.

 In a letter analyzing the findings from the Idaho Attorney General’s office to Rep. Ilana Rubel (D-Boise), the AG office confirms that a reviewing court “would most likely find that the acreage limitations…are lifetime limitations…” and that the Idaho Land Board “has ultimate responsibility for ensuring that the acreage limitations are not exceeded.”

 The findings call into question the claim by some state lawmakers that Idaho’s public lands won’t be sold off to private interests if they fall into state hands. Not only have 41 percent of our lands already been sold, according to The Wilderness Society’s May 2016 report, but many parcels have been sold in a way that appears to violate the State Constitution and violates the trust of the people of Idaho.

 The Idaho Legislature is also considering a measure (Senate Bill 1065) from Sen. Steve Vick (R-Dalton Gardens) that requires all state agencies to prioritize privatization of state lands.

“Public lands and the access they provide to Idahoans every day is what makes our state so incredible,” said Brad Brooks, TWS’s deputy director. “History shows that given the chance, local politicians and bureaucrats have proven happy to sell off Idaho’s lands, even dodging the Constitution to do so.”

 Unlike public lands like national forests, state lands are managed by constitutional mandate for maximum revenue generation. The State Land Board, composed of 5 elected officials, has the authority to sell state lands, without a public involvement process, to achieve that constitutional mandate to maximize revenue.

 “The history of the West is rife with examples of powerful people playing fast and loose with the law to get their hands on land,” said John Freemuth, executive director of the Andrus Center for Public Policy and professor of public policy and administration at Boise State University. “Without constant public vigilance, it’s clear to see that Idahoans might lose their national forests, refuges and other prime places to hunt, fish and camp. History tells us that it’s easy to lose public lands and much harder to get them back.”

 Read more about the findings here.

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 The Wilderness Society is the leading conservation organization working to protect wilderness and inspire Americans to care for our wild places. Founded in 1935, and now with more than one million members and supporters, The Wilderness Society has led the effort to permanently protect 109 million acres of wilderness and to ensure sound management of our shared national lands. www.wilderness.org.

 The Idaho Conservation League works to protect the air you breathe, the water you drink and the land you love. www.idahoconservation.org

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