Public Lands and Wilderness

These lands are your lands.

Why Public Lands Work

From the sagebrush deserts of the Owyhee Canyonlands to the rain-soaked forests of the Panhandle, to the tranquil waters of eastern Idaho’s Bear Lake, Idaho’s public lands are an important part of Idaho’s very essence. Over 60% of Idaho is public land and belongs to you and all U.S. citizens, by birthright.

Idaho is blessed with over 34 millions of acres of public lands — out of a total of 53 million acres — administered by the federal government for the benefit of all Americans. As former Gov. Cecil Andrus once said, public lands are “our second paycheck” and the reason many of us live here. Public lands define who we are.

The Idaho Conservation League works with our members, partners, agencies, stakeholders and decision-makers to ensure that future generations have the opportunity to appreciate and enjoy our public lands. Learn how you can get involved to help protect your public lands.

Management of Your Public Lands

We work to keep public lands in public hands. Public lands work best when the public is involved. We take time to understand the various ways these lands are important to Idahoans, to advocate for better stewardship, and to help our members participate in decisions that affect them. This means listening to others, finding common ground and collaborating where possible—and stepping up to defend our natural heritage when necessary. Working together, we help keep Idaho, Idaho.

We Each Have a Say in Public Lands

The vast majority of your public lands are managed under a “multiple-use mandate.” That means that on any given acre, you could find hikers, hunters, miners, loggers, ranchers, or others competing for access and utilization. To balance those sometimes-competing uses, federal agencies like the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management engage the public to try to find the best approach to managing every acre.

Together, the Forest Service and BLM oversee most of the federally administered public lands in the state, with 20.5 and 11.8 million acres respectively.

While Idahoans often have spirited debates about what is the best use for a particular area, the fact that these are public lands means we can be part of these debates. When it comes to lands that are in state or private ownership, you don’t have much of a say.

In some cases, Congress designates certain lands for specific uses — national wildlife refuges, national monuments, wilderness areas, national recreation areas or wild and scenic rivers. These designations help to direct management and can result in one use being prioritized over another.

Bedrock federal laws like the National Environmental Policy Act, Endangered Species Act and Clean Water Act provide guidance for public involvement, consideration of sensitive resources and environmental protection. The staff here at ICL review land use proposals and submit science-based comments thanks to these laws.

State Lands

The state of Idaho also is in charge of approximately 2.6 million acres of state lands which are managed by the Idaho Department of Lands (IDL) expressly to maximize long-term revenue. State lands are managed for the benefit of public schools, University of Idaho and public buildings. In contrast to the Forest Service and BLM, IDL is not required to solicit public input or consider alternatives. The Idaho Forest Practices Act provides the primary regulatory authority for the management of state lands.

Wilderness Designation

Idaho is known as the wilderness state. Many of our most stunning landscapes and richest habitats are designated wilderness. Through acts of Congress, a total of about 4.8 million acres of public lands in Idaho — approximately 14% of the total 34.5 million acres of public lands in Idaho and 9% of the entire state of Idaho’s 53.5 million acres — have been protected with the wilderness designation.

What does the wilderness designation do?

The Wilderness Act was enacted in 1964 to “assure that an increasing population, accompanied by expanding settlement and growing mechanization, does not occupy and modify all areas within the United States and its possessions, leaving no lands designated for preservation and protection in their natural condition”.

Wilderness designation is the gold standard for preservation of America’s public lands. Designated lands are off-limits to mining and timber harvest. Unlike national parks, national recreation areas, and national monuments, wilderness areas are closed to motorized and mechanized vehicles.

The Idaho Conservation League’s history of wilderness advocacy is rich. ICL was instrumental in the establishment of the Frank Church-River of No Return, Owyhee Canyonlands, and Boulder-White Clouds wilderness areas. Our North Idaho office is actively engaged in an effort to protect the first wilderness area within Idaho’s nine northern counties — the proposed Scotchman Peaks Wilderness.

What You Can Do

ICL is always looking for ways for you to get involved and help protect Idaho. Use the form at the top of the page to sign up for our email updates. We’ll keep you informed about ways you can get involved and help take care of Idaho.