Actions & Issues
Idaho's Public Lands
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 part of Idaho’s very essence.
Public lands are part of our identity as Idahoans. These lands are home to the Shoshone-Bannock, Shoshone-Paiute, Nez Perce, Palouse, Coeur d’Alene, Kaniksu, Kalispel, Salish, and Kootenai Tribes who have been living here for thousands and thousands of years. Their narratives give added meaning to the landscape and continue to do so today. Much of these landscapes are now managed by the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management (BLM) as public lands. Together, the Forest Service and BLM oversee most of the federally administered public lands in the state’s 53.4 million acres, with 20.5 (38% of the state) and 11.8 million acres (22% of the state) respectively.
Idaho’s public lands serve as vital habitat for fish and wildlife, provide clean drinking water for our families, help drive our economy, create amazing recreation opportunities, and support our way of life in innumerable ways. People from all around the world come here to admire Idaho’s towering mountains, explore remote canyons, experience the adventure of a lifetime on one of Idaho’s wild and scenic rivers, and more.
Keeping Public Lands in Public Hands
Public lands work best when the public is involved. We work to keep public lands in public hands. While Idahoans with different interests 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. This means listening to others, finding common ground and collaborating or co-managing where possible, and stepping up to defend our natural heritage when necessary. When it comes to lands that are in state or private ownership, you don’t have much of a say.
Unfortunately, there are some people at local, state, and federal levels who have made it clear they do not share these values and believe that public lands should be transferred to state or private ownership. We make sure Idahoans have a voice in the management of the lands they own.
Why Public Lands Work
The vast majority of public lands are managed for multiple uses. ICL supports these uses, but often these activities have used unsustainable practices. We take time to understand the various ways these lands are important to Idahoans, advocate for better stewardship, and help our members participate in decisions that affect them. Working together, we help keep Idaho, Idaho.
Idaho is known as the wilderness state. Many of our most stunning landscapes and richest habitats are designated by Congress as wilderness. Wilderness designation is the gold standard for preservation of America’s public lands. Wilderness areas are open to hunting, fishing, hiking, berry picking, camping, horseback riding, and paddling. These areas are closed to motorized and mechanized vehicles and activities such as mining and timber harvest that would interfere with wilderness characteristics.
The National Forest Management Act requires every national forest management office to adopt a plan for the conservation of natural resources. These plans are to national forests as comprehensive plans are to your cities and counties. Forest management plans are revised only once every 20 to 30 years and provide overarching guidance that all forest projects must adhere to, so they are crucial to get right. As part of the forest management plan revision process, the U.S. Forest Service evaluates potential areas for protection under both the Wilderness Act and the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act. These plans also include direction for fish and wildlife habitat management.
Idaho has a long and colorful history of mining, but too many of these mines have polluted streams and contaminated landscapes. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, 40% of watersheds in the West have been contaminated by mining activity. The Idaho Conservation League works to ensure that mining activities don’t threaten human health, special places, or Idaho’s clean water. We scrutinize proposed new mines, improving those that are acceptable, and fighting those that are not in Idaho’s best interests.
Fish and Wildlife
Idaho is one of a very few states where you can still find virtually all of its native fish and wildlife species. But many are faced with the possibility of loss or extinction. At ICL, we work to protect healthy populations of native fish and wildlife, and recover those at risk.
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