When the public lands takeover issue popped out of the shadows in 2013, many dismissed it as a fringe concept that had been already been discredited. People felt that the flames of the Sagebrush Rebellion had been doused in the late 1970s and 1980s, and that the long-fought-for and well-supported concept of public lands was etched in stone.

As various flare-ups over the last several months have demonstrated, this issue is far from dead. A presentation in Boise on Monday, Feb 29, will further stoke the flames of this effort. George Wentz, a lawyer with a New Orleans-based legal consulting firm, will be presenting on the constitutionality of public land ownership. The hearing is scheduled for 1:30 pm on Monday in the Idaho Statehouse’s Lincoln Auditorium.

Despite a century of jurisprudence, clear language in the U.S. and State Constitutions, and disclaimer clauses in all western state enabling acts which say states “shall not be entitled to any further or other grants of land for any purpose than as expressly provided…” Mr. Wentz will present a argument to the contrary.

In a report that Mr. Wentz and his colleagues authored for the State of Utah, they present arguments as to how the Property Clause, Supremacy Clause, other constitutional direction, and over one hundred years of established legal precedent, should be invalidated, resulting in the forfeiture of millions of acres of treasured public lands. With a price tag of $14 million to bring a case in federal court, the State of Utah is looking for allies in their quest and is all too eager to have Idaho sign on the dotted line to share in these legal costs.

In addition to the presentation next week, our heads are spinning with other recent developments on this topic.

  • On Wednesday, Feb 24, Sen. Sherry Nuxoll (R-Cottonwood) presented a bill that will encourage authorize counties to declare public lands a public nuisance and to “pursue all remedies allowed by law.” As two county commissioners noted at the hearing, they “need a stick to go after the federal government.” Instead of supporting successful collaborative efforts, that counties are currently engaged in to solve real problems, the Idaho Legislature appears more interested in beating up the federal government.
  • It’s not all bad, though. On Wednesday, Feb 24, in a hearing on the U.S. Forest Service Budget, Rep. Mike Simpson (R-ID) voiced his unequivocal support for public lands when he told the Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell, “let me tell you why people live in Idaho. They live in Idaho because they love their public lands.”

All this comes on the heels of the Bundy family’s calls to take up arms against the government in efforts to seize control of public lands at the family ranch in southern Nevada in 2014 and earlier this year at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge near Burns, OR.

So, while some might argue that this is an idea that has been discredited, or that it’s not a real threat, we disagree. The fact is that this is a concerted effort by out-of-state corporate interests who are making a grab to control and sell off our most treasured landscapes. Lands that your children and grandchildren will inherit. Lands that you and every other Idahoan and American own.

The threat is real, and if you care about your lands… Now is the time to stand up.

Join us this Monday, Feb 29, at 1:30 pm in the Statehouse Lincoln Auditorium (Room WW02), to provide a presence countering the presentation of attorney George Wentz. Some people will be gathering with the Idaho Wildlife Federation at 1:00 in the park across the street before the presentation.

We will provide information on additional opportunities to take action as they arise.