Letters From the West

Idaho Senate panel sends federal land transfer bill to the floor(video)

The Senate State Affairs Committee approved a resolution Thursday
demanding that the federal government transfer all of its land to the
state. The bill, based on a law approved by Utah, is based on a legal
argument that the federal government promised to sell its lands and
give the states 5 percent of the proceeds.


Redfish Lake Lodge would sit on state land, not federal and the campgrounds and other recreation facilities would be managed by the state if a land transfer bill succeeded in its unlikely outcome as written.

Redfish Lake Lodge would sit on state land, not federal and the campgrounds and other recreation facilities would be managed by the state if a land transfer bill succeeded in its unlikely outcome as written.

On a voice vote the panel also approved establishment of a study
committee to look into the legal and historic arguments the
House-passed bill makes to support its case. Republican Rep. Lawerence
Denney, the bill’s sponsor said the state would not sell the land
if it were to get title but would manage it more efficiently than the
federal government.
“This starts the discussion on the active management of the land,” Denney said.
That discussion is already going on in eight separate collaborative
efforts in communities around the state said Jonathan Oppenheimer of
the Idaho Conservation League. These discussions between loggers,
hunters, anglers, environmentalists and local officials have brought
tens f millions of dollars of investment to these communities and
resulted in the approval of cutting more than 40 million acres of
Denney said that since one billion board feet of timber grows every
year on those lands cutting 40 million “means were leaving 960,000
board feet in the forest to create more fires.”

Oppenheimer said much of the legal and historical data included in the
bill is inaccurate and he pointed to a 1980 study authorized by an
earlier State Affairs Committee that determined Idaho would have to
change its constitution to make the demand the resolution makes. Even
if it did past federal courts have ruled against other western states
who tried to make the same demand.

Wally Butler of the Idaho Farm Bureau expressed support pointing to
the timber that could be cut. But Former U.S. Attorney Betty
Richardson said the panel also needs to consider the costs the state
would face.

Republican Sen. Jeff Siddoway, who said he grazes sheep on 400,000
acres of federal land, pointed out how much lower mill rates are for
eastern states than he faces in Idaho, which directly hurts schools.

“They put more money in the public schools because they can afford to
do that,” Siddoway said.

But Siddoway did not say where he would graze his sheep if the public land was all private like back East.

He also expressed skepticism about the Idaho Conservation League’s intentions.

“I’ve got to be blunt. I’ve seen your association, your group shut down
our timber industry, shut down our grazing in industry…” Siddoway

Oppenheimer acknowledged over 40 years the group has taken stands to
protect water quality and other resources that have placed it on
opposite sides with some lawmakers. But he said they also have worked
with lawmakers on many issues, specifically the Idaho Roadless Rule,
which the group supported even as other environmental groups fought
it. And he talked about its work for balance in the collaboratives.

At that point Pro Tem Brent Hill interrupted him and said the
discussion had moved off the resolutions.

Both passed with only the two Democrats on the Committee opposing.
Sen. Elliot Werk said he opposed both but thought the land transfer
resolution would lead to “more fences and no trespassing signs” on
Idaho public lands.

Sen. Bart Davis said he wanted to reserve the right to vote against
the resolution on the floor after reading material supplied by
The measure stipulates that after the state gained title, it would
transfer back to the federal government national parks, monuments,
wilderness areas, Indian reservations, and Department of Defense and
Department of Energy lands. But it does not say it would transfer back
the Sawtooth National Recreation Area or the Hells Canyon Recreation
Area. Here’s a video of Rep. Denney:



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