The attempt by some politicians to seize and take over control of million acres of public lands surfaced in Idaho in 2012. Since then, many have come to realize that the state cannot afford to manage the lands, leading to the inevitable outcome of selling off our public lands to the highest bidder. Public lands are treasures that belong to all Idahoans and all Americans. Unfortunately, some politicians want to ignore that fact.
The good news is that some politicians are recognizing that a public lands takeover is not in Idaho’s or America’s best interest.
Which Politicians Oppose the Proposal?
Idaho Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter opposed the idea in his 2017 State of the State address and has referenced the inability for the state of Idaho to cover the costs of wildfire suppression. His press secretary recently said, "if the feds weren’t there to pay for it… you’d blow a huge hole in the state budget."
Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden has also criticized the proposal and pointed out that it is inconsistent with the Idaho Constitution. The Idaho Constitution expressly states, "[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." As Wasden stated, "We cannot take back something that we never owned…. We’re the ones who said, ,Don’t give us the land.’ We don’t have a good legal case."
In addition to Wasden, other western attorneys general agreed, finding in a 2016 report that there is no basis in the law for a lawsuit that would compel the federal government to transfer hundreds of millions of acres of public lands to the states.
Finally, during the campaign, President Trump indicated his opposition to the public land takeover movement, when he said, "I don’t like the idea because I want to keep the lands great, and you don’t know what the state is going to do. I mean, are they going to sell if they get into a little bit of trouble?"
The Idea Is Still Being Pushed
Independent economists have confirmed that Idaho can’t afford the costs associated with managing millions of acres of federally-administered public lands. A 2013 report by the Conservation Economics Institute found that the proposal could cost taxpayers over $1 billion after 5 years and more than $2 billion after 20 years. Such losses would necessitate the sale of large swaths of land, something Idahoans have routinely objected to.
Nonetheless, proposals in both the Idaho Legislature continue to advance. In the Idaho Legislature, Rep. Judy Boyle (R-Midvale) introduced two bills associated with the public lands takeover movement in 2016. While neither was enacted into law, she indicated earlier this year that she is intending to bring related measures back during the 2017 session.
Idaho Sen. Steve Vick (R-Dalton Gardens) has introduced a measure that compels every state agency to sell off state land acreage equal to or greater than any acres acquired. It would also require all state agencies to compile a prioritized list of lands for sale.
At the federal level, there has been a lot of reporting on Rep. Jason Chaffetz’s (R-UT) decision to withdraw his bill that would have transferred more than 3 million acres of public lands to the states. There has been much less focus upon others bills, including HR 232 introduced by Rep. Don Young (R-AK) that would transfer up to 2 million acres of public land in each state. Other measures include a rule change that allows Congress to avoid accounting for the actual losses associated with any potential public land transfers. That measure was supported by both Idaho Reps. Mike Simpson and Raul Labrador.
So Where Does That Leave Us?
Land grabbers would have us believe that Idahoans-and Americans-are fed up with the administration of our national parks, national forests and other public lands. In reality, a 2012 poll conducted by respected polling firm Moore Information found that over 73% of Idahoans feel that one of the things that the federal government does well is manage our forests, parks and public lands.
Unless we take action to demonstrate that Idahoans treasure our public lands, we could lose these lands forever. Join with us in a rally to demonstrate support for keeping our public lands in public hands on Saturday, March 4, at the Idaho Capitol.
What Do Idahoans Really Want?
What we have learned from working on this issue over the course of the years is that Idahoans
- Love their public lands and want to ensure access for future generations to enjoy Idaho traditions like fishing, hunting and camping,
- Agree that Idaho’s Constitution and Statehood Act prohibits any claims to additional federally-administered lands,
- Realize that Idaho can’t afford to take on the monumental task of managing multimillion dollar wildfires, not to mention the costs associated with managing thousands of miles of roads and trails,
- Are concerned that the federal lands takeover undermines the ongoing, successful work of collaborative efforts around the state to find locally-developed solutions to address management concerns,
- Don’t want to see our public lands sold off to the highest bidder.