When it comes to efforts to seize public lands, sometimes it feels like a roller-coaster. Time and again, Idahoans have stood up to Idaho politicians who have made a grab to control and sell off our most treasured landscapes. Far from being a nuisance, public lands in Idaho are an asset and critical to Idahoans’ quality of life.
Yet there’s now a new proposal before the Idaho Legislature to give county commissioners and sheriffs the ability to declare public lands a “public nuisance.”
The criteria to make such a declaration include wildfire risk, insect and disease risk, or conditions that could threaten water quality.
Once declared a nuisance, the county would send a letter to the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), U.S. Forest Service or other public land manager demanding a plan to address the threat. While this may sound harmless, the real goal is to undermine the multiple-use mission of our public lands and to attempt to seize and sell off our treasured landscapes.
Over the past couple years in Idaho we’ve seen efforts, largely driven by out-of-state interests, to
- demand the federal government turn over title to all federally-administered public lands to the state
- sign Idaho onto an Interstate Compact to work on “legal and political strategies” to seize lands-i.e., joining Utah’s proposed $14 million legal quest to sue the federal government
After a two-year study, though, an Idaho Legislative Interim Committee decided not to pursue legal action, based in part on the lack of a legal case as revealed by Idaho’s Attorney General Lawrence Wasden.
During the 2015 Legislative Session, the compact bill passed the House but was rejected by a Senate Committee.
One of the key arguments that the Attorney General has made is that there’s simply no way to argue away the clear language of the Idaho Constitution.
“[T]he people of the state of Idaho do agree and declare that we forever disclaim all right and title to the unappropriated public lands lying within the boundaries thereof.” – Idaho Constitution
Lastly, new polling released this week demonstrates that more Idahoans oppose efforts to seize public lands.
The current proposal, sponsored by Sen. Sherry Nuxoll (R-Cottonwood) is identical to a proposal from the American Legislative Exchange Council, an industry-funded group that develops “model legislation” and then passes the bills off to state legislators to introduce. The bill is also identical to one that passed the Utah Legislature in 2015 and another that’s currently being considered in the Arizona Legislature.
The fact is that federal land managers have accomplished nearly a million acres of fire prevention treatments across Idaho since the advent of the National Fire Plan, with approximately half of these acres directly around homes and communities. There’s no question, more can be done, however working through existing collaborative efforts provides a better pathway to accomplish needed work on the ground.
Further, contrary to accusations that public lands are a nuisance to local communities, public lands are actually an asset. New research demonstrates that rural communities in close proximity to protected public lands are faring better than those without access.
It’s time to end the public lands takeover charade and instead work to find win-win solutions that can create jobs, protect the environment and ensure public access for Idaho’s future.