Letters From the West

House panel approves Federal land transfer resolution

Cattle graze on land controlled by the Bureau of Land Management near Kuna. (Idaho Statesman File Photo)

Cattle graze on land controlled by the Bureau of Land Management near Kuna. (Idaho Statesman File Photo)

A resolution that would demand the federal government transfer all federal land in Idaho to the state was approved Tuesday on a party-line-vote by the House State Affairs Committee.

The resolution, patterned after similar legislation in Utah and other western states, was accompanied by a bill that set up an interim committee to study the issue. It also passed with only Republican votes.

The resolution’s premise is that the federal government broke its promise to the states to dispose of all its lands and give the states 5 percent of the revenue. After all of the land was transferred Idaho would give wilderness, national monuments defense lands and the Idaho National Laboratory back to the federal government.

Most legal scholars agree that the federal government had the right to change its mind, but there is a minority view that the states’ claim may be held as constitutional. That minority view passed the Utah Legislature last year, catching the interest of lawmakers in Arizona, Wyoming and New Mexico.

Idaho lawmakers, including the resolution’s sponsor are convinced that Idaho would generate millions of dollars in revenues for schools and other services and reduce forest fires because of better management. Critics say the chance of a legal victory is small and that even if they were successful, Idaho leaders would be forced to sell off millions of acres to make it work.

The resolutions go to the House floor for debate.

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