Some bad ideas take a long time to die. In 1981 Idaho outdoorsman and writer Ted Trueblood published a story in Field & Stream: "They're fixing to steal your land."
Here they go again.
The Idaho Legislature is considering a measure that would demand the federal government turn over up to 33 million acres of public land to the State of Idaho. This is an ill-advised approach to address natural resource issues that affect us all. The proposal threatens special places like the Boise Foothills, Sawtooth National Recreation Area and the Salmon River, lands that belong to all of us.
In a Reader's View, Idaho County Commissioner Jim Chmelik took offense to some of my comments. There's no doubt, the Idaho Conservation League and most Idahoans feel passionately that Idaho's public lands must remain in public hands.
Utah Rep. Ken Ivory recently testified before Idaho's House and Senate Natural Resources Committee. Ivory's proposal is based on a flimsy interpretation of existing law, would cost Idaho hundreds of millions of dollars and ignores the real progress that Idahoans are making to find common ground to conserve and restore our public lands, and help rural communities.
Ivory is selling political snake oil. He testified that the laws that granted statehood represent "solemn compacts and bilateral agreements" between states and the federal government. However Idaho's Admission Act clearly states, "Idaho shall not be entitled to any further or other grants of land for any purpose ..." What's more, the Idaho Constitution, which our leaders are sworn to uphold, "forever disclaim[s] all right and title to unappropriated public lands lying within the boundaries ..."
Ivory's idea is nothing new. In 1981, similar proposals "quietly died in the Idaho Legislature." As the Congressional Research Service reported in 2007, theories that suggest the federal government is bound to relinquish ownership of public lands to the states "have been rejected by other Supreme Court cases."
The reality is that Idahoans are making progress to find common-sense solutions. Idahoans are doing it by rolling up their sleeves to find common ground, and we're happy to be part of these solutions.
For example, working with Idaho County, and other partners in the Clearwater Basin Collaborative, we've attracted over $12.5 million in direct investments for the implementation of the Middle Fork-Selway Forest Restoration Project. The project has created and sustained over 127 full and part-time jobs and has resulted in the treatment of over 47,149 acres in the Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forest. Over 11.4 million board feet of timber are moving through local mills as a result. This represents just one of the job-creating projects we're working on throughout the state.
As co-chair of the Clearwater Basin Collaborative's Rural Economies Subcommittee, we remain committed to finding workable solutions that benefit the local economy and the environment, and invite Commissioner Chmelik and Idaho's leaders to learn more about the real progress we're making on the ground in the Clearwater and throughout the state as partners in these collaborative efforts.
Finally, it's important to note that in 2012, BLM and Forest Service budgets contributed hundreds of millions to Idaho's economy. As others have pointed out, the costs to Idaho's already-stretched budgets would be severe. Dealing with fire management alone could cripple our state budget, impacting every Idaho taxpayer.
Idaho's public lands are our heritage, as Idahoans and Americans. Idaho families treasure the clean water, abundant recreational opportunities, natural beauty and freedom that our public lands represent. The Idaho Legislature would better served to support the real progress that Idahoans are making in collaborative efforts, instead of repackaging flawed proposals that have been proven unworkable.
Jonathan Oppenheimer is senior conservation associate for the Idaho Conservation League.