Letters From the West

Resolution demands federal government transfer all land to state

Bighorn sheep look down on the Snake River from Hells Canyon National Recreation Area.(Idaho Statesman file photo)

Bighorn sheep look down on the Snake River from Hells Canyon National Recreation Area.(Idaho Statesman file photo)

After you have waded through the legal arguments Idaho lawmakers want to use to justify their demand that the federal government turn over millions of acres of federal land to Idaho, the specifics get interesting.

The bill, House Concurrent Resolution 22, demands that because of a breach of promise the federal government made, it should transfer all of the federally controlled land to the state. Once done the state would give back the national parks, the designated wilderness defense lands, national monuments and the Idaho National Laboratory, as long as more promises are not broken.

The tribes would get to keep their lands and the state promises to meet all treaty rights, which if true would complicate state management over the lands the tribes ceded to the federal government, which includes much of the federal lands the state is demanding.

But the state is not talking about giving the federal government back Hells Canyon National Recreation Area or the Sawtooth National Recreation Area. They would keep the roadless national forest lands. It also wants the wilderness study areas.

All of this idea is based on the idea that the federal government once planned to dispose of all its lands and to give the states 5 percent of the proceeds. Most legal scholars agree the federal government had the right to change its collective mind.

Since the whole idea, patterned on Utah law, is based on the federal disposal idea, the resolution says any lands the state would sell it would keep 5 percent of the proceeds for the schools and turn over 95 percent to the federal government.

The resolution also would establish an Interim Public Lands Study Committee which would study how to manage access, open space, sustained yields of something, not identified, and multiple use of lands. It also would determine through a public process how much land would be sold.

One of the authors of the bill Republican Rep. Judy Boyle made the point they don’t want to sell the public land. But the bill specific calls for studying selling it and if it does, giving the federal government 95 percent of the proceeds.

That will make for interesting politics.

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