Community Blog: The EDge

Economist: Transfer of federal lands just doesn’t pencil out

As far as the law goes, there’s little chance that states will succeed in gaining control over federal lands, says a Bozeman, Mont.-based economist.

Not that a lands transfer is such a good bargain anyway.

If states were to gain jurisdiction over federal lands, they would also incur the cost of firefighting, with each state putting together its own firefighting apparatus to replicate the feds’ own system, said Ray Rasker, executive director of Headwaters Economics, a nonpartisan think tank. And all of this would happen just as the fire seasons are getting worse, and the cost of firefighting is increasing, due in part to climate change.

“The trends don’t look good,” Rasker said at a City Club of Boise forum Thursday.

A legislative committee met last month to begin studying a land transfer, but the committee isn’t expected to make recommendations until 2015. But the Legislature is already on record demanding a transfer, passing a resolution in 2013. The idea is that 5 percent of the proceeds from land sales would go to the public school endowment, with the remaining 95 percent going to federal debt relief.

Part of the problem, said Rasker, comes from a failure to articulate the value of public lands. Abundant federal lands are a “gift” to the West, he said, since they can help draw workers and employers. “It’s a race to attract talent.”

Kevin Richert is a reporter and blogger at Idaho Education News (idahoednews.org). Kevin is a former Statesman editorial page editor, with 27 year's experience in Idaho journalism.

Posted in The EDge