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It was a mixed bag in the Statehouse this week, starting with an overwhelming show of support for public lands but going quickly downhill from there. Fortunately, only a month remains of the Idaho legislative session!

Loving Their Public Lands

Hundreds of sportsmen and other public land advocates filled the Capitol Monday to hear a sales pitch from Utah legislators and their lawyer. These folks wanted Idaho to join a $14 million legal quest to demand title to public lands.

The opposition to any state efforts to wrest control of our treasured public lands was palpable. The crowd clearly rejected the speakers’ attempts to rewrite history books and warp the Idaho and U.S. Constitutions to meet their political agenda.

Fire Bill Paid in Full

Last summer, wildfires affected 742,000 acres in Idaho. Of that, 78,571  acres were on lands owned and/or protected by the Idaho Department of  Lands. This represents a fourfold increase over the average amount of state lands burned each year. The cost to Idaho taxpayers totaled $60 million. This week, the House overwhelmingly approved this funding, and it’s expected to clear the Senate next week.

Given trends with snowpack, drought and record heat waves,  fire seasons will likely grow longer and more active. The  price tag for fire suppression should be a wake-up call to legislators  that climate change is real and we should plan accordingly.

It should also give pause to those who advocate seizing public lands, which would put Idaho on the hook for hundreds of millions of dollars in additional fire costs each year.

Oil and Gas Clears House Committee

The House Resources and Conservation Committee advanced the oil and gas bill to the floor. SB 1339 would shorten the public comment period and expedite the decision-making process for drilling applications.

There’s nothing wrong with setting clear timelines. But when the Legislature wants to short-circuit opportunities to consider input from the local landowners who would be most affected by new drilling proposals, we take issue.

As a result, ICL testified against the bill and promoted an amendment offered by Rep. Mat Erpelding (D-Boise) in committee, where it attracted support from both sides of the aisle. Ultimately, it didn’t carry the day, so the bill will be considered next week on the House floor. We still hold out hope for amendments to protect Idaho’s public interests.

Public Nuisance Bill Advances

For most Idahoans, our public lands are a treasure, not a “catastrophic nuisance.” From the stunning Selkirks to the Bear Lake Plateau, our public lands represent freedom. They are where we hunt, fish, hike and get away from the bustle of modern life.

So we’re puzzled by the Senate Resources and Environment Committee’s approval of a bill that would allow counties to declare public lands a nuisance. This bill encourages litigation if federal land managers don’t respond to such a declaration.

Instead  of supporting ongoing collaborative efforts that are restoring our  public lands, creating jobs, reducing fire risk and improving access,
the committee advanced this misguided bill against the testimony of  ICL, sportsmen and others who agree that finding common ground is better  than simply sticking the feds in the eye.

Conservation Easements Under Fire

When private landowners want their lands to provide habitat for fish and wildlife and access into the future,  conservation easements are a great way to go. Federal funding-including  the Forest Legacy program and other wildlife dollars-are available to  support these protections.

This week, a proposed conservation easement drew the fire of some members of the Joint Finance and Appropriations Committee.  In the words of chief opponent Sen. Sherry Nuxoll (R-Cottonwood),  “keeping the land in perpetuity is limiting the freedom of choice for  our children and grandchildren and our free-market economy.”

On the contrary, protecting  public access on these North Idaho lands guarantees that our kids and  grandkids have the freedom to hunt, fishand recreate on these lands while preserving private property rights to manage timber resources and contributing to local jobs.

After all, the Clagstone Meadows conservation easement is an arrangement between a willing seller and willing buyer-and it doesn’t use a dime of state money. Still, the Department of Lands budget must approve allocation of these federal grant dollars.

Tie of the Week!

To recognize the Idaho sportsmen who made such a strong showing in the Idaho Legislature this week, as well as the critical wetland habitat that would be protected by the Clagstone Meadows conservation easement, I offer this, my Tie of the Week!

Until next week. Esto perpetua…