Last month, the Idaho State Board of Land Commissioners (a.k.a. the Idaho Land Board) and Idaho Fish and Game Commission finalized an agreement that protects public access on 2.3 million acres of state lands. The Land Board also affirmed a recreation policy that authorizes continued public access to our state lands.

Historically, state lands have been considered open to public access. But because of Idaho’s constitutional requirement to maximize revenue from state endowment lands, a private entity could lease the lands and prohibit other forms of public access.

The terms of the deal will have the Idaho Department of Fish and Game paying the Idaho Department of Lands the equivalent of 25 cents per acre through in-kind services via patrols by IDFG senior conservation officers and a cash payment of   $367,100 per year (subject to inflation).

Both Sides of the Coin

The deal is good news for hunters, anglers and other recreationists because it secures access to the 2.3 million acres of state lands, as long as the annual agreement is in place. On the other hand, it demonstrates how tenuous that access is in the future. If a private party wishes to apply for an exclusive lease on state lands, that party could outbid the Idaho Department of Fish and Game, and the Idaho Department of Lands would have limited ability to dismiss the application.

The deal also spotlights the difference between public and state lands. Access to public land is guaranteed, whereas state land is not considered “public land.” So accessibility can change, and state lands can still be sold. In fact, in February 2017, an analysis from the Idaho Conservation League and The Wilderness Society found that the state had sold off nearly 1 million acres of state lands. What’s more, land sales for over 200,000 of these acres may have violated the Idaho’s constitutional limits on the number of acres that can be sold to any one individual or corporation. In response to that report, IDL promised to do an audit of these sales, but 19 months later, nothing has been released.

In Other IDL-related News…

The Land Board announced a new director for the Idaho Department of Lands. Dustin Miller, former administrator of the Idaho Governor’s Office of Species Conservation, will take the helm this fall. We’ve worked with Dustin for years and look forward to working with him in this new role.

Finally, the Idaho Department of Land’s oil and gas program recently hired an auditor to review the books from oil and gas wells, including royalty payments from Alta Mesa, which operates on state lands. The audit found room for improvement in the state’s leasing program to ensure that pricing information and resulting royalty payments are accurate. The audit also identified the need for state leases to be more detailed and explicit. Among other notable findings, the state only received $25,000 in royalty payments over a 16-month period ending December 2016. You can read the full audit report.