Letters From the West

Blaine commissioner says he’s not getting time to make public lands case

The Beaver Creek Fire races through the crowns of the forest west of Hailey (InciWeb photo)

The Beaver Creek Fire races through the crowns of the forest west of Hailey (InciWeb photo)

Blaine County Commissioner Larry Schoen doesn’t think the state would have had the resources to save Hailey and Ketchum from the massive Beaver Creek Fire.

He’s also worried that Blaine County and all Idaho counties would turn out big losers if the federal in lieu of taxes and Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act payments end if the federal government turns over its land in Idaho to the state.

But in the Idaho Association of Counties vote on the issue Schoen lost as a resolution, which supported exploring federal transfer, passed. He says he didn’t get a fair chance to debate Idaho County Commissioner Jim Chmelik before the association in committee and before the entire group.

“That was very frustrating to me,” Schoen said.

And once again, Schoen, who is a Democrat, says he’s getting shortchanged.

Chmelik is one of the most passionate promoters of Utah Rep. Ken Ivory’s proposal to demand that the federal government give up title to all federal lands it holds in western states. He is on the agenda Dec. 4 to share a half hour to speak to the Idaho Legislature’s Interim Public Land Committee studying the issue with Valley County Commissioner Gordon Cruickshank.

Cruickshank is promoting the idea of the federal government turning over management of up to 200,000 acres of federal forest lands to a trust appointed by Idaho Gov. Butch Otter with the proceeds of logging going to the counties. The federal government would keep ownership and still have to pay to fight fires.

Since both are from timber counties, Schoen thinks the committee should hear another view as it studies the issues. “They have no one from the southern counties,” Schoen said.

Schoen contacted his legislator, Democratic Sen. Michelle Stennett of Ketchum, who serves on the committee and thought initially he would be on a panel with the two other commissioners. But she was told that Schoen could speak during the time set aside for public testimony.

Stennett said she asked Co-chairman Sen. Chuck Winder to allow Schoen more time when he speaks during the one hour, twenty minutes scheduled for public testimony.

“I just wanted to make sure it’s been even-handed,” Stennett, the Senate minority leader said.

I called Winder for his comment but he hasn’t called me back yet.

Rocky Barker is the energy and environment reporter for the Idaho Statesman and has been writing about the West since 1985. He is the author of Scorched Earth How the Fires of Yellowstone Changed America and co-producer of the movie Firestorm: Last Stand at Yellowstone, which was inspired by the book and broadcast on A&E Network. He also co-authored the Flyfisher's Guide to Idaho and the Wingshooter's Guide to Idaho with Ken Retallic. He also was on the Statesman’s team that covered the Sen. Larry Craig sex scandal, which was one of three Pulitzer Prize finalists in breaking news in 2007. The National Wildlife Federation awarded him its Conservation Achievement Award.

Posted in Letters from the West